There were times when I thought this book, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” was a retelling of Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery.”
Six years before all but three members of the Blackwood family living on the family estate die from poisoning. Two sisters, Constance and Mary Catherine (Merricat) survive as well as an uncle who becomes invalid. Constance is arrested and tried but acquitted.
After the tragedy, the three live an isolated life. Constance leaves the house only to tend to her garden. Merricat runs errands into the town, which she hates to do because she is often taunted and ridiculed by the townspeople, who blame the girls for the tragedy. Uncle Julian spends his days writing a book about the tragedy and leaves the house until to sit in the sunshine in his wheelchair.
One day a cousin shows up and moves in. Merricat who believes in omens and sees the house as a living thing thinks she can protect or affect the house and those who live in it through the use of objects and words that have meaning and power and are magical. She sees Charles as an intruder and works to get him to leave.
That happens after a fire that destroys the house’s second floor, making what remains look like a castle. When the fire is extinguished the townspeople see it as an opportunity to take out their frustrations with the Blackwood family. They stone the house, smash windows, break furniture, shatter China, damage decorations, and leave the house in a shambles. The destruction stops when Uncle Julian’s body is found. He wasn’t able to escape the fire.
I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil what is a fairly good story.
I’d always thought that Shirley Jackson was a one-hit wonder, that The Lottery was about the only thing of note she’d written, until a few years ago when I discovered (and added to my very long list of books to read) her novels We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. I’ve read that her writing is quietly haunting and frightening. This book was that and more. It’s well worth reading. I’ll be picking up The Haunting of Hill House soon.