My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
I was entranced from this opening line of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and was immediately immersed in the mystery and suspense. Mary Katherine/Merricat Blackwood is a fascinating narrator; at once endearing, unreliable, curious, and most definitely memorable. I felt similarly reading this short novel -only 146 pages- as I did whilst reading Jackson's short story "The Lottery" back in June: uneasy. Jackson masterfully builds the sense of unease into an unbearable tension in this incredibly atmospheric and creepy tale.
Merricat, her sister Constance, and confused Uncle Julian live a reclusive life on the Blackwood land outside the village. The villagers are cruel to the Blackwoods and their hatred runs deep; their cruelty is described in Merricat's last visit to the village for provisions and library books but the reason behind their vitriolic and vehement dislike of the family is not revealed until the third chapter. The village children taunt Merricat with the rhyme "Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me" but Constance is presented as lovely and gentle and the sisters are exceptionally close; the bonds of familial and sibling loyalty and affection run deep in this novel.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is sinister and disturbing yet highly enjoyable. Merricat's narrative is exceptionally compelling and her novel outlook on the world is interminable in its uniqueness. I have said little of the plot but that is intentional; suffice to say that we discover how everyone else from the Blackwood family -mentioned in the opening paragraph- died. The suspenseful plot is very intriguing and it is best going into the novel knowing as little as possible to feel the full effects of the suspense built and to appreciate Jackson's craft. The events in the novel are claustrophobic and may be credited to Jackson's own agoraphobia. If you do feel persuaded to enter this wonderful story then please refrain from reading the back cover synopsis of the Penguin re-issued edition photographed above as it reveals the first secret, the revelation of which is built up to, and the true power of this is lost.
This is my second book read for the R.I.P. IV challenge and a thoroughly fitting one at that.