Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shirley Jackson - We have always lived in the castle

+Penguin Books USA
+Kindle Ebooks Daily

Mary Katherine Blackwood lives with her older sister Constance and uncle Julian in a large house set in a large ground.  They live in isolation from the village nearby.  Only an acquaintance of their mother's visits them once a week.

Only Merricat (Mary Katherine) walks to the village from time to time to shop for groceries.  These visits are a form of torture for her as she has to put up with mean comments by the people living there.  Little children chase her and sing nasty songs about her family.

The Blackwoods have so long lived in isolation that the people of the village look upon them as freaks of some sort.  Later something happens that reinforces their impression.  Four members of the Blackwood family are poisoned.  Constance is arrested on suspicion of murdering them but is acquitted later.

Merricat loves the fixed routine of their lives.  She cannot bear to see any change in their life patterns. When a visitor talks to Constance about boyfriends and normal life, Merricat feels terrified.  She gets her hackles up when cousin Charles comes calling.  He insinuates himself into their life and Constance makes space for him.  Merricat finds his intrusions ominous and must do something to eject Charles.

This a story that is written with great delicacy. The secrets of the Blackwood family are revealed gradually, tantalizingly.  Uncle Julian is a cripple and obsesses with his notes about the Blackwood poisoning and the subsequent trial.  Constance is seemingly calm and normal, but she is obsessed with cooking and cleaning.  She cannot abide any change in their routine. Merricat likes to work up talismans and spells to keep their lives unchanged.

I read this book years ago during the 1970's.   I remembered nothing but the incident of poisoning, not the name of the book, not the name of the author.  Armed with this information, even google could not help me.  Then I happened to read a book list about Wicked Women in fiction. The synopsis of the book was exactly the one I remembered.  I ordered the book right away and fell to reading it.

What a marvellous bit of fiction this is.  These days books need to portray a twisted protagonist and a plot that has several twists and turns.  In such times, it is such a treat to come upon a book like this which is so beautifully written.  It is almost as if the story is whispered out.


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