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Archive for the ‘Shirley Jackson’ Category

I ‘secretly’ checked out We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson from the library last week, not daring to mention it in my Library Loot post in case I excited the hopes of Jackson-loving bloggers who have been disappointed before when I’ve checked this out only to return it unread.  After a bit of public shaming, I vowed that 2012 would be the year I finally tried this short novel.  And so I did.

The story is told by Mary Katherine Blackwood (‘Merricat’), who has lived with her elder sister Constance and Uncle Julian in virtual isolation since the arsenic poisoning deaths of the rest of the family years before.  Merricat is the only one who ever leaves the family property (Uncle Julian being confined to a wheelchair and Constance held captive by her agoraphobia), braving the gossiping townsfolk to buy groceries and pick up library books.  They are outsiders but relatively contented ones, though, to the reader, quite mysterious and odd even among themselves.  Then Cousin Charles arrives and begins to upset their ordered if not quite ‘normal’ lives.

The book begins with one of the most brilliant opening passages I’ve ever read:

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.

After reading that, I did hope I’d be as enthralled by this book as so many other readers seem to be.  But that did not happen.  I discovered that I love Jackson’s writing style but I just could not interest myself in her content.  I did have one momentary, horrifying flashback to “The Lottery” when the villagers began behaving as Jackson’s villagers are wont to do, but mostly I was bored.  I don’t think that is any particular reflection on Jackson, it just seems to be my general response to anything with an even remotely Gothic tone.  I didn’t find it suspenseful or intriguing and, when that’s the major selling-point of a novel, missing that kind of tension does tend to take away from the experience.  I’m very glad I finally tried it for myself though and I can easily understand why other readers love it so much, it just doesn’t appeal to my tastes.

I love the title, I love the opening, and I love the way Jackson writes a sentence but, as I whole, I was completely indifferent to this story.  On the other hand, I now can’t wait for my already ordered copy of Jackson’s amusing, domestic, Provincial Lady-esque Life Among the Savages to arrive.

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