Dark, melancholic and undoubtedly the source of so many horror movies, We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the story of 18-year old Mary Katherine Blackwood, her sister Constance and their wheelchair bound uncle Julian, who live in a grand house in Vermont on their own. The rest of their family died six years ago in a tragic poisoning for which Constance was blamed but acquitted. The villagers still suspect and fear her though, so she lives as a shut-in and only Mary Katherine, called Merricat, ventures out into the world to buy food twice a week.
The choice of POV in this book is what makes it so interesting, we see the world through Merricat’s slightly feral eyes, in which magic and made-up spells are real and there always is a chance to travel to the moon on a flying horse. What seems childish at the beginning isn’t really, as we learn when the story slowly unfurls and the almost sacred, regular schedule of the three Blackwoods gets disrupted more and more.
There’s a thread of vulnerability and cruelty that runs through this book, one that the POV obscures sometimes, we sometimes lose track of who’s vulnerable and why, but when the cruelty hits during the climax, when the house turns into the castle, it’s painfully obvious. The build-up to it is beautiful, slow and somehow inevitable, but it still hurts very much when everything comes crashing down.
This is the first novel by Shirley Jackson I’ve read, I’ve seen adaptations of The Haunting of Hill House, but I was more curious about this one and I was not disappointed. Her writing reminds me of Marlen Haushofer’s, one of my favourite authors who lived roughly at the same time and died way too young too. It’s not so much the style itself and Jackson seems fonder of more supernatural elements, but they are very similar when it comes to the distribution of power in their stories, who wields it and who eschews it and in which ways too.
There’s this feeling of creeping dread and endless melancholia in the end, one that I recognise from Haushofer’s books and while it moves you and keeps your mind occupied for a long while, it doesn’t crush you. Aka just the way I like my sad and slightly (or not so slightly) disturbing stories.