Wednesday, August 23, 2006

We Have Always Lived In the Castle

Shirley Jackson

From the beginning, it is evident that there is something dark and ugly between the Blackwoods and the village below. The children make taunting rhymes about the sisters Mary Kate and Constance. The adults are more direct in their spite. They blame the Blackwoods for shutting off their property, and for not developing it. They jeer and spit at "Merricat" when she comes into town for supplies. And, oh yes, they blame Constance for the death of her family by poisoning.

Merricat, in an attempt to protect her sister, has weird talismanic rites that she invokes to weave a web of protection. As it is, there are only a few people who come to visit the sisters and their infirm Uncle Julian, the only survivor of the poisoning and one who is obsessed with the day. But that all changes when their cousin Charles comes for a visit, attempting to get Constance to come out of her shell - and incidentally, to get his hands on the Blackwood fortune. Merricat's efforts to get him to leave become increasingly bizarre, leading to an event when all the villagers get to vent their spite.

This is a fascinating novel, because although the narration is from Merricat's perspective, so her view colors everything, she is proven to be fairly justified in her loathings, as the villagers and cousin Charles act in fairly monstrous fashion. Yet Merricat herself is far from admirable; her weird, symbioitic relationship with her sister makes me wonder what mental illness her mother brought to the family, and her rituals of protection are those of a child, not a young woman of eighteen. And, of course, the sisters themselves become a strange sort of talisman to the village; strange figures to be given gifts, and to avoid.

This is a little bit of dark normalcy, a gothic novel that draws you in.


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