Shirley Jackson's We have Always Lived in the Castle, tells the story of two sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine (known as 'Merricat') Blackwood. Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.
Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was followed by Hangsaman, The Bird's Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece.
I wasn't initially gripped by Jackson's novel but I persevered and I'm so glad I did. The tension built and by the second half I was gripped. I've read a couple of Jackson's short stories and so knew how adept she is at creating a claustrophobic and hostile atmosphere. What Jackson also does particularly well is make the ordinary horrifying. She reveals the echoes of violence which bubble beneath small-town society and are imprinted on the places in which we live. Jackson's final novel is unsettling and haunting (without featuring any actual ghosts). It masterfully serves as a commentary on women's place in the domestic sphere during the years after the Second World War - and what happens when women don't fit the desire model.