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.This is a Vicious Circle book club pick but I've wanted to give We Have Always Lived In The Castleits full due here too since I think it's such a brilliant little book.
Little it is. The edition pictured clocks in at a cool 146 pages. There are only a handful of characters and many of those mentioned are already dead at the book's opening. The setting is limited to the crumbling Blackwood mansion and the outlying village. The book has the feel of the movie Pleasantville - that reality is limited to a few square miles and then drops off the face of the earth.
Mary (called Merricat) and her older sister Constance live with their ailing uncle Julian. The remainder of their family, including their mother, father and brother, have perished through poisoning. Connie stood trial but was not convicted. The three remaining family members live out their days confined to the house and surrounding property, hiding from the accusatory eyes of their neighbors.
The atmosphere is textbook creepy. Merricat is a strange blend of naiveté (her love for her sister, her sheltered life, her childish habits of collecting and burying objects) and cold calculation (she imagines the villagers dead when she walks there once a week to buy groceries, she makes quick work of an enterprising relation who looks to woo Connie and grasp ahold of their fortune) and these opposing traits drive the novel with chilling force. As a narrator Merricat may be wholly unreliable (she tries her best to keep us from the truth behind the poisoning) but as a character she ranks with the best.
For lovers of gothic literature I'm not sure it gets much better than this. Due to its brevity, engaging plot and straightforward (yet deftly written) prose, this novel would also serve as a great gateway book for anyone looking to start (or restart) reading the classics.
We Have Always Lived In The Castle/ Shirley Jackson / PB, 1962