Shirley Jackson is a master of suspense and expertly pinpoints what society likes least about itself.
Writers have a lot to learn from her work, but, at least in my experience, academia focuses mostly on Jackson’s best known short story, The Lottery.
In an attempt to start the year off right (and because school no longer dictates what I focus on reading) I decided to read more work by the authors I’ve liked in school and picked up a copy of Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It’s a short read, just over 200 pages, but it certainly is not a light read.
Jackson’s novel addresses different levels of family loyalty and how surveillance of one’s life can change it. Since the tragic loss of most of the Blackwood family, Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian hide in their house, avoiding the town as much as possible. The remaining Blackwoods even limit their movement within the house based on which rooms can be seen from the road.
Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian’s isolation contributes to the suspense and horror in the novel, but what struck me most was the setting. The grand house was an imposing visual and the tiny town is erie because it seems to only exist by itself there is nowhere else for the characters to go. Readers can feel the tension because the setting severely limits the characters’ options. Also, when another character comes on scene, it doesn’t expand the space of the story, it instead fills the space that is already there giving the story urgency.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is subtle and psychologically intriguing. If you like horror, whether its usually books or movies, I’d recommend giving this one a try.
Find We Have Always Lived in the Castle in your local bookstore, or ask an employee if they can order it for you! If that doesn’t work, click here to order it from Barnes and Noble.