I have two books by Shirley Jackson peering at me from my bookshelf right now. The first, The Haunting of Hill House is an often sited scary book. The other, We Have Always Lived in the Castle I found while browsing and, admittedly, picked it up because the cover is bright orange. Happily, it is also a deliciously unsettling and thought provoking novel that is today’s FGR.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is narrated by Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwell and tells the story of the Blackwell family’s tragic history and the torment that their small town plays inside the minds of the family members that remain. Merricat, her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian are all that remain of a family dinner laced with arsenic. Still, their quiet lives are spinning along in their isolated existence until their Cousin Charles comes to stay.
Mary Katherine has been cited as one of the most memorable narrators in 20th century fiction. She struck me as terrifying in both her inner monologue as well as in her small worldly interactions. Truthfully, I could not decide for quite some time whether Merricat was the villain or a victim. Likewise, Constance’s lighthearted commentary coupled with Uncle Julian’s rambling made me feel like a record was playing in the background at the wrong speed. Jackson’s ability to create so much upheaval in my mind within the confines of a mere 146 pages is awe-inspiring. Deeply unsettling doesn’t quite describe it.
This book is no “scarier” than any Agatha Cristie. Rather the story is so suspenseful that I find myself turning it over in my mind again and again. This is truly the best gothic suspense novel I have ever read and I cannot wait to compare it to The Haunting of Hill House.