Posted in 20thC, Novels

In Which I Discover Shirley Jackson Is Brilliant!

We have always lived in the castle

If anyone is interested Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle is available on Kindle today for only 99p, and I urge anyone who has never read it to remedy the situation immediately.  I know this sounds odd – after all, I read Jackson’s short story The Lottery and hated it so much I swore I’d never read anything else by her. But for some reason I clicked on this to look at the free sample, and found one of the greatest openings to any novel 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 Plantagenent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Intriguing, I thought. Doesn’t it make you want to know more about Mary Katherine (or Merricat, as she is known)? And what happened to the Blackwoods? And what happens to Merricat and her sister? And what about that sinister reference to the death cap mushroom which creates such an air of unease…

I must have come across this before, because I’ve read other bloggers’ reviews, but maybe I didn’t notice what they said, because I just dismissed Jackson out of hand. Anyway, I bought the book, and now I’m a convert. I’ve not finished it yet, but I’m so engrossed I can’t put it down and the housework remains undone – we need ironed clothes and clean dishes, but I don’t care!!! However, I am taking a quick break  just so I can tell everyone how brilliant it is, and how wrong I was to ignore Jackson. She writes like a dream, but the tale she tells has something of a nightmarish quality: it’s a fairy tale I guess, but a very, very dark one. Gothic is the word usually used to describe the novel, and I don’t think you could disagree with that.

We learn that six years ago the Blackwood parents were poisoned with arsenic and Constance was tried for murder, but acquitted through lack of evidence, although she’s generally regarded as guilty. However, it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems. For it is even more obvious that Merricat, with her protective charms and rituals, is deeply disturbed…

The suspense builds from that very first paragraph, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out – so far the novel gets better with every page. A proper review will follow at some stage. Meanwhile, if you go to Stuck in a Book you can read Simon T’s thoughts and Margaret at Books Please wrote a very nice piece here where she said the book was ‘weirdly wonderful’, which it absolutely is.

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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

8 thoughts on “In Which I Discover Shirley Jackson Is Brilliant!

    1. Thank you for commenting Jessie. This was a real surprise – I never expected to like Shirley Jackson, but it shows how wrong you can be.

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    1. Like I said, I read The Lottery and hated it – it was horrid. I’ve avoided Shirley Jackson ever since, so I don’t know why I clicked on this, but I’m glad I did, because it’s wonderful. But I’m wary of reading anything else by her in case my reaction is like it was with The Lottery.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite a discovery Jane, so I can understand ow you felt – but I’m sure there are lots of other people like me who spent the day totally gripped by Jackson’s writing.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Pam, do read it – it is utterly unputdownable, and not as grim as The Lottery, though it is disturbing, and there are some similar concerns about outsiders and persecution, and a kind of mob mentality, where people in a group do things they would never do individually.

      Liked by 1 person

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