Shirley Jackson knew how to creep people out. Just read The Lottery and see what I mean. She knew how to make readers uncomfortable and squirmy. We Have Always Lived in the Castle does that beautifully.
Mary Katherine, Merricat, is 18 years old and lives in an old house with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian. The rest of her family are dead. How is revealed throughout the story.
Most of her time is spent in the house except for the couple days a week she goes into the village to buy groceries. The trips are nerve wracking. The people seem to hate her. There is no love lost between them. Merricat wishes them all dead.
It's been this way for years but Merricat feels that things are about to change. One day there is a knock on the door and Merricat's fears come true.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a weird tale but in a good way. It's clear from the beginning that 'that girl ain't right'. Merricat is 18 but acts more like a 12 year old. She also has some strange habits and murderous thoughts. I wondered how reliable she was as the narrator. How much of what's happening is real? Could the villagers really be that bonkers?
I read that Shirley Jackson was agoraphobic. I can believe it if she put her fears into this book. When Merricat is away from the house, there is a sense of urgency to get back to it. The reader breathes a sigh of relief that she made it back safely. Constance and Uncle Julian never leave and even the few visitors they get are received with a lot of fuss and bother. Merricat has difficulties letting other people into the house, which is how all the trouble starts when Charles arrives.
Not that Charles is innocent. The moment he steps in I could see dollar signs in his eyes. Poor Constance is so lonely, she'd befriend the devil if he knocked. When relatively normal (you know except for the greed part) Charles stays in the house, we get to really feel the oddness of their situation. Uncle Julian rambles a lot like Walter from Fringe, at least he did to me. He's never been the same since 'that day' and Merricat's strangeness becomes more pronounced. Constance manages it all with a smile and a "silly Merricat" but she isn't unaffected by the charms of normality.
Even though the surprise near the end wasn't all that surprising, I definitely enjoyed the story.