I've always been interested in stories about a small community traumatised and scarred by a singular event, either past or present - from Camus' The Plague to Miller's terrifying play The Crucible - there's something about mass hysteria or mob tyranny that I find so fascinating and admittedly, a little bit exciting.
What Shirley Jackson does best in her novel We Have Always Lived In The Castle is how in the beginning she contained the hysteria and suppressed the mob making the inevitable panic (occurring later on) to spread as fiercely as a bushfire and as damaging as cancer.
The novel is written from the perspective of Katherine Blackwood, who at eighteen years old is the youngest in the Blackwood family, or rather what's left of the family. Both Blackwood parents died as well as an aunt and a younger brother when arsenic was mixed with the sugar and then sprinkled on their blackberries. Constance, the older sister was blamed because she was the only one who did not put sugar on her blackberries. The uncle survived the poisoning and Katherine skipped the meal.
Only three are left to reside in the Blackwood residence and they live in near isolation from the rest of the town after being casted away after the incident.
The novel moves like a slow, seductive and deliciously disturbing dance and everything feels dark. I only experienced a slight glimmer of light from the tender relationship between the two sisters. But even their relationship had its dark moments.
Everyone is cruel to everyone. The townspeople are frightening. The Blackwood family are cheerlessly bizarre. I don't recall the weather being mentioned in the book but it felt like every passing day had a dark grey hovering above it, with an occasional downpour with no promise of sunshine.
The characters are beautifully complex and enigmatic and the reveal at the end felt like a sudden chilly breeze: abrupt, disconcerting at first but then it all makes sense.
Book 'poster' was created and edited by me. Book cover from here.