Friday, January 2, 2009

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [1962]

This novel was touted by Time Magazine as 1 of the 10 best novels for 1962. So it really doesn't need my puny little 5-Stars rating, does it? Nope.

That cover art is the original [wish I had a 1st-edition copy], found via Google. Trixie gives the story an enthusiastic 4 Paws for that original cover art, and also because Jonas features so prominently in the story. ;-)

It is an *excellent* story. While reading it, I couldn't help thinking I wish I'd written it. It's truly one of a kind. I'm glad Absinthe read/reviewed/recommended it in October (?); piqued my interest. I'd heard of this story, but hadn't thought of it; and it's in the Horror, not Gothic, section of my local used bookstore.

If little cakes decorated with pink frosting and golden leaves, a cat sleeping in the lettuce patch, arsenic in sugar, six blue hidden marbles, a large heirloom- and memories-filled home in the country, a harp and poison mushrooms combined sounds alluring, it's your story.

Mary Katherine [aka "Merricat"] Blackwood is 18 years old; she tells their story. She's currently living at home with older sister Constance [tried and acquitted of murder] and their old Uncle Julian.

It's immediately evident who the murderer is. But what you're waiting for is WHY; if there is a reason. What motivation? Unless it's sheer insanity.

The story opens with Mary Katherine's most recent trip into the village; she goes twice per week, to buy groceries and pick up more library books. Her hatred and loathing of the townsfolk and their mutual hostility is evident. She subtly provokes the grocer and others in the store with deliberately-worded references to "sugar...we need more sugar" and wanting a leg of lamb, as Uncle Julian enjoys roast lamb in the spring.

Merricat is a young woman capable of the most beautiful flights of fancy. If over-stressed she dreams of being on the Moon; of the house she'd have there, and what exotic foods and jewels they'd possess. She also has fancies of another type... She can be fiercely loyal and loving or someone's worst nightmare.

There's one word for the story imo: Spellbinding. That word is too often overused, but not in this case; it IS a spellbinding story if ever there were one. If you've not yet read it, do so.

I was surprised at how the story ended. And that Charles...well, that it ended for him as it did. And Constance; what to say of dear Constance? She interested me even more than Merricat, especially at the end.

The cast of characters as I visualized them:

Mary Katherine: Winona Ryder [age 18]
Constance: Barbara Hershey [age 23]
Charles: David Selby [age 28]
Uncle Julian: As described; a handsome and harmless old gentleman.

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