We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a creepy little book. Well, maybe the book’s not creepy, but the characters sure are.
Mary Katherine (Merricat), her sister Constance, and their frail Uncle Julian all live together in the house where, 10 years before, all the family members excluding these three were poisoned when they ate sugar laced with arsenic. Constance was tried and acquitted for this crime, but the townspeople know one of the sisters must have been the culprit so shun the whole family, even allowing their children to taunt Merricat when she ventures out on her weekly trip to by groceries. Constance has become a recluse and Uncle Julian is bound to his wheelchair.
Their rather compulsive routine is rattled when their Cousin Charles comes to stay with them for a while. Cousin Charles can barely hide his real motive of wanting to find the family’s hidden fortune. Merricat is beside herself trying to get Cousin Charles to leave, as he is messing up the life she and her sister and her Uncle Julian have set up. Merricat decides to do whatever necessary to make him leave.
It’s rare to encounter characters as well crafted as Merricat. She’s 18 years old but acts and has the emotional maturity of a pre-teen. You think she might be evil, and you’re not sure what it exactly it is about her that doesn’t sit right, but there’s just something sitting just below the surface, something the characters seem privy to but not the reader.
It’s also rare to encounter writing like Shirley Jackson’s, writing that, while you’re reading it, you know it’s great. It’s not pretentious, yet it’s complex and nuanced. This is a fun and quick novella that does not disappoint.
Rating: 88 out of 100