2017 Book Kickoff:We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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Happy New Year!

I intend for 2017 to be a year of books, among other wonderfulness. To kick things off, the first book I read so far this year is Shirley Jackson’s¬†We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).

I admit, I was drawn to this book because of the cover and because it’s by Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors.

SPOILER ALERT

The book is told from the perspective of Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, one of the few surviving members of the Blackwood family. She lives in an old, large house with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. There used to be more members of the Blackwood family, but she poisoned her family’s sugar with arsenic to punish them when she was sent to her room without supper. Her sister survived because she does not take sugar (and that is the reason why Merricat poisoned the sugar and not something else) and her Uncle Julian only took a small amount.

The plot largely centers around the daily routine of Merricat and her family and their relationships with the other characters. The most fascinating part of the narrative is Merricat herself – she shows no remorse for having killed her family, and yet she respects ¬†various spaces and objects that belonged to them, even though they are deceased ( for example, after her Uncle Julian dies, she still does not enter his room, insisting that she is not allowed). As a reader, my reaction to Merricat was at times, “She’s crazy” and “She’s a brat,” but I still found myself happy that she and her sister were happy at the end of the story. I feel like it’s an odd reaction to have given how horrible Merricat is as an individual, but that’s part of the beauty of Jackson’s writing: she doesn’t just invite you into the psyche of a character, she thrusts you in, allowing the reader to become intimate with the character by helping to detach the reader from their own preconceptions to understand the world of the story through the character’s eyes.

Now, onto the next book!

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