We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

Since the available reading time leading up to our November book group meeting included Hallowe’en we decided, as has now become traditional, to try and ready something nearer the spooky end of the spectrum. We considered a number of titles, including Dracula and (my favourite) The Monk, but decided to try Shirley Jackson’s classic of American Gothic fiction.

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At our meeting last night (over lattes, hot chocolate and cake – its a tough job but someone has to do it) we discussed whether this was, in fact a ‘spooky’ story or not. Our overall opinion seemed to be that there was a strong element of suspense but that it may not be totally appropriate to see the narrator, Merricat, as being involved in witchcraft. She has so many habits which seem to be the coping mechanisms of an OCD sufferer – although they do seem to largely vanish by the end of the book.

The story involves two sisters, orphaned by a poisoning incident for which the older sister was tried and acquitted, living with an invalid uncle on the outskirts of an increasingly hostile village. Only the narrator, Merricat, visits the village although these visits stop with the arrival of a cousin, Charles. The older sister, Constance, seems to be about the only sympathetic character in the whole book – you do feel fairly sure that she couldn’t possibly be a murderer.

Overall I enjoyed the book and will probably try more Shirley Jackson – I am told that the Haunting of Hill House is well worth reading. I am not generally a horror fan but, when it is well-written and full of suspense rather than gratuitous gore, I will happily give it a try.

Jane

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