We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson - a review
Although this book was first published in 1962, the idea of two young women protecting each other to the extent of letting others die to continue their close relationship is universally and endurably chilling in a world where we are encouraged to believe that women (and especially sisters) should be constantly in competition with each other.
It is considered a masterpiece and with its quiet and subtle narration, the introverted and defensive family in their “castle” and the suspicious and hateful villagers, lacking only in pitchforks, it is a powerful and richly layered read. Truths are gradually revealed that allow the reader to make sense of what initially appears strange and senseless.
In “Howards End is on the Landing”, Susan Hill talks about being published at the tender age of 18 and is scathing about authors who write from their own experiences. “Looking back, I see that it was not a very good novel but it did have one merit – it was not in the least autobiographical.” Does Hill believe that if a story reflects its author’s life it should be instantly dismissed?
The afterward (yes I read them) of her final novel “We We Have Always Lived in the Castle” tells us that the late, great Shirley Jackson often wrote characters who shared her own fears. In contrast to Hill I am delighted that she does. Her biographer Judy Oppenheimer calls the two female characters in this book, Constance and Merricat, the “yin and yang of Shirley’s own inner self” – “one, an explorer, a challenger, the other a contented, domestic homebody”. Autobiographical or not Merricat is an absolutely terrifying character, as damaged and dangerous as Iain Banks’ narrator in the Wasp Factory (perhaps he was inspired by Jackson). The Blackwood family’s fear of the villagers (justified as it turns out) reflects Jackson’s fear of the anti-Semitism of her Christian neighbours in Vermont.
In my opinion this book is a must read and I am very excited about the film adaptation this year.