48. WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
Recommended by Holly, on Goodreads. This was the first time I’ve read anything by Shirley Jackson, and it convinced me I definitely need to read more. The only bad thing in this book is the introduction (which really isn’t a fault of the book), which I’d recommend skipping (I usually do, I only read this one because I said I’d read all the books from cover to cover for the challenge).
Synopsis: Merricat Blackwood lives in her family manor with her sister and sick uncle. A poisoning in the past has killed off their entire family, except for the uncle (who was left ailing); Merricat’s sister, Constance, was acquitted of the crime, but still blamed by the whole village. Because of that, she hides in the house and refuses to face any stranger, leaving Merricat as something of a protector.
Overall enjoyment: It was creepy, but so good. I couldn’t stop reading.
Plot: Very interesting. There is the battle between Merricat and Charles in the foreground, and a study of mob psychology on the background, and some really good psychological insights peppering the whole thing. The big revelation in the end is a bit obvious, but no less enjoyable.
Characters: Amazingly well constructed and presented. It was a delight to read about them. There are no personality descriptions, yet they are vividly multidimensional.
World/setting: This was also pretty well done. The village is described as something out of a nightmare, easily the setting of a 1970s horror movie; yet, we see it through Merricat’s eyes, and it’s subtly implied that this warped view is exclusively hers. The manor and the grounds are described as a safe haven, a paradise where Merricat could run free and have her adventures.
Writing style: Using Merricat as narrator was a masterful decision. It can be very difficult to do, considering all the disturbances Merricat has (it would have been very easy to overdo them, stereotype and exaggerate her, or to over-simplify the whole thing), but she pulls it off beautifully.
Representation: I am not sure if it would fit in this particular story; there are so few characters, and many of them just symbolize the ominous threat of the outside world.
Political correctness: A tricky category in this case. The Blackwoods are rich and the people in the village who hostilize them are poor, there is one of the reasons for the hostility, but by no means the only one. Constance and Merricat are very good portraits of mentally ill people (Constance with anxiety and Merricat with extreme OCD), and maybe having Merricat be the killer is problematic. However, one of the reasons why the people hostilize them and believe Constance is the killer is because she’s weird and won’t go out of the house, even thought she’s innocent.
Up next: Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson