Every girl has to have her heroes and it looks like Shirley Jackson is going to be one of mine very soon. No one can replace Virginia Woolf or the utterly dark and stylistically daring Muriel Spark (read the Driver’s Seat. DO IT). But Shirley is certainly trying.
Like most high school students, I read The Lottery. I liked it, of course, but I wasn’t blown away. I think that was partially because I already had a healthy distrust of crowds and communities so the story didn’t really surprise me. I then forgot about Miss Jackson (not Janet, she played heavily in my middle and high school years).
Then, several years ago, Neil Gaiman wrote an article or a blog post, I forget which, about Shirley Jackson. I had just started my obsession with Muriel Spark and while the two are very different, they do have similarities. I decided to check her out starting with The Haunting on Hill House which I loved and used for inspiration for a flash fiction story.
A few weeks ago, I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I usually don’t pay attention to covers or at least I try not to let them influence me but let’s take a moment and appreciate the haunting beauty of this cover:
Thankfully, the story is just as good. The blurb:
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
But, this blurb really doesn’t do the book justice. Merricat is such an incredibly interesting character. She buries objects and hangs books as talismans against evil. At eighteen, she still has a fort in the woods. She plays games while shopping in the village to keep the hostility of the villagers at bay. She dreams of murdering them all, but she is rather quaint about the whole thing. Her sister, Constance, accepts all of Merricat’s eccentricities and she sees the world in kind of an easy-breezy-let-it-be type of way that is both attractive and repulsive. Poor Uncle Julian is rather poorly both mentally and physically and he obsesses daily about the murders. The relationship between the three is just fantastic and if the book had only been about that, I would’ve been blown away. But then there’s Charles and the villagers. Oh the villagers. I really don’t want to spoil the story but what the villagers do and how they react to their own behavior is frightening and intriguing and seems pretty true to life. But how Merricat and Constance react–I think essays could be written about that.
The style of the novel is so interesting. At any moment, you feel like it could devolve (or perhaps evolve) into a ghost story or a dealing with the paranormal, but it never does. The problems are all earth-bound but the continuous playing with otherworldliness is intoxicating and allows you to sink in and out of the novel like a ghost floating from room to room, engaged and aloof at once.
If you haven’t read this book, please do. If you do, please email me and tell me how you liked it or didn’t like it. I love talking about books. 🙂
And, just a reminder, the next chapter of Our Beloved Dictator has been posted! Happy Reading!
Also, for this week only, you can download Tough Girl for free on your Kindle!