I realize that the RIP Challenge is over. I haven't had a lot of time to post the last few weeks. (To be honest, I think I did finish a day or two late anyway!) I still haven't even finished reviewing my short story collection from John Connolly (which I DID complete and found incredibly creepy and just wonderful). But I'll get to that too. For now, you are just going to have to settle for this review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (210 pgs, Penguin, 1962). It is going to be used as a selection for the RIP IV Challenge.
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
If that's not one of the most unique and creepy opening paragraphs, then I don't know what is. Mary Katherine Blackwood, most commonly known as Merricat, lives with her sister Constance and their crippled Uncle Julian. Constance is a total recluse who refuses to leave her home. She had been accused of the murder of the rest of the family (a poisoning by arsenic), but had been acquitted by the courts. Unfortunately, the rest of the town didn't seem to agree with the ruling. In the beginning, we see Merricat going to the village for supplies. Everyone is a little distant, but it becomes clear that the Blackwoods are pariahs in town.
But their lives have routine. And all is the same until the day Cousin Charles enters the picture. And that is the beginning of the end.
There is not much more I can say about the storyline itself without giving something away. And trust me, it is best just to read it for yourself. From the beginning, things seem just a little "off". Merricat is an eighteen year old girl; and yet she is treated and acts like a child. And then there are her strange little rituals and her weird imagination. As the story progresses, with Merricat as the narrator, the reader isn't really even sure how much of the tale is real. She is not exactly the most reliable of narrators.
Shirley Jackson is amazingly adept at creating a story that is amazingly creepy in such a simple way. Not in the real sense of monsters or demons, but in an even scarier, psychological way. It truly is a gift of a great writer. From the beginning you know that something isn't right. And even though the "surprise" isn't much of a surprise by the time it is revealed, it is chilling in it's own way. From deep in your gut, you can just FEEL that it is all wrong.
It is a ingenious little story, and yet I hate to admit that I didn't like it. I can see the brilliance in the writing, but did I enjoy it? Not really. And I've been really trying to figure out why. I think it's because I didn't like any of the characters. To me, not one of them was likable. Although it is written to make Constance seem all sunshine and roses, to me she was just as much of a loon as Merricat. Actually, she was even crazier. (again, I can't say much more than that). Uncle Julian is old and senile. Cousin Charles is only out for his own personal gain. The villagers were mostly a vile bunch. And I disliked them all immensely. I guess, for me personally, I have to connect with someone to enjoy the story. Or at least this one anyway.
BUT, I loved The Lottery. And I really want to read The Haunting Of Hill House. I'm not giving up on Jackson. As I said, the story really is extremely well-written. It's good. I just didn't like it!! If you like creepy little tales, maybe this one is for you!! 3.5/5