‘Poor strangers, they have so much to be afraid of…’
Shirley Jackson was a morbidly obese, amphetamine addict so you know that she means business. Anyone who manages to eat that much while simultaneously being off their head demands to be taken seriously. This truism, coupled with the eye catching title We Have Always Lived in the Castle ensures that Jackson’s final novel is certainly noticeable. Luckily, We Have Always Lived in the Castle doesn’t just stand out because of aesthetics and its eccentric author, it also tears free from the pack by being absolutely sodding brilliant.
Mary Katherine and Constance Blackwood are sisters who live as outcasts from the nearby town due to a horrifying incident. It is this very event that acts as the glue that binds Mary Katherine and Constance together. Along with Mary and Constance, their wheelchair bound uncle Julian is the sole survivor of the episode that ripped the Blackwood family apart.
The problem with Gothic literature is that it is all a bit bloody serious. I loved Frankenstein dearly but it isn’t half grim and you could comfortably lose 200 pages from Dracula and be left with a better novel. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is jet black in tone, but in a way that actually recalls the morbid levity of The Addams Family rather than those occasionally ponderous previously mentioned Gothic staples.
This mixture of Gothic mystery and dark humour makes for a page turner that is tough to put down. Not only that but I found that Merricat and Constance invaded my dreams. Both in slack jawed stares out of a car window and my night time dalliances into cheese induced nightmares. When reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle you end up pulling up a seat at Constance Blackwood’s impeccable dining table and joining the Blackwood sisters in their systematic but full-hearted existence.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is as insistent as Merricat Blackwood herself, and these characters are so fully realised and beautifully drawn that they will walk along side you long after the physical version of the book has been cast aside. Put simply, I haven’t been so drawn into a writer’s world in a long time.
If you have ever narrowed your eyes at a stranger and secretly wished them dead then walk down the overgrown path to the Blackwood house and spend a couple of days in the company of Merricat and Constance Blackwood. They might not appease your murderous desires but you sure will feel at home.