Thursday 15 November 2018

Review by Colin Gardiner of "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller who perfected the idea of a twentieth-century American Gothic – where the dark and twisted thoughts of seemingly normal characters are revealed in gripping and shocking detail.

Her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle centres on the life of the remnants of the Blackwood family, who live in self-imposed seclusion in their grand home at the edge of a hostile village in rural Vermont.

Jackson expertly juxtaposes the "vulgar" behaviour of the villagers with the eccentric life of the Blackwood family, a seemingly happy but fragile existence, under threat from familial tension, small-town resentment and dark secrets.

This is a powerful novel of family tragedy, isolation and magic, told through the singular and unpredictable prism of the young protagonist’s consciousness. The central character, eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, has to be one of the most fascinating and multifaceted creations in modern literature. Jackson gives us insight into the macabre thoughts of this unique eighteen-year-old teenager, on the cusp of an unwanted adult-hood. Merricat is child-like, yet sharp as a knife. She is a daydreamer in touch with nature who harbours thoughts of violent retribution on those who seek to destroy her idyllic existence with her sister and uncle.

The novel is suffused with a beautiful dark magic – from the totemic objects buried or nailed around the house by Merricat – to the gothic trappings of the family home and its enchanted gardens. Jackson casts a spell on the reader in this bewitching anti-coming-of-age tale.

About the reviewer 
Colin Gardiner is following a part-time Masters degree in Creative Writing at the University of University. His interests include short story writing, screen writing and poetry. He lives and works in Coventry with his husband and two cats.

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