Thursday, 15 March 2012

Cannonball read #10: We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson

I didn't want to write a review right away when I finished this book. I wanted to wait a while and let it sink in.

We have always lived in the castle, written by Shirley Jackson in 1962, is a story about two young sisters, Constance and Merricat, that live with their uncle in a house outside a village. They are seclusive, avoiding all human contact, fearing the whispers and even the taunting of the villagers. The reason for that is that their family died of arsenic poisoning a few years ago, and the prime suspect was Constance.

The book is quirky and charming, yet creepy and disturbing at the same time. The two sisters are portrayed as two opposites, one impulsive and selfish, one caring and thoughtful. The titular ”castle” is one of the main characters in the story, so majestic in its sinister history, a shelter for the young women, always under attack (or perceived attack) from the villagers.

I get the impression that the book is a window into these two women's lives, that exist in suspended animation, in a timeless vacuum that they themselves created. I write ”women” but until Constance's age is revealed later in the book, I thought of the sisters as teenagers. They have truly created a bubble for themselves, where nothing, not even time, can affect them. They don't need to age, if they don't come into contact with the outside world. We grow up and become adults partly through gaining wisdom from the conflicts we face in every day life. Take away these conflicts and you're left with eternal childhood.

The book's main conflict comes in the form of a cousin that threatens to upend the ”perfect” existence that the sisters have created for themselves. Constance is tempted to move on towards adulthood; but it's not that easy. Love prevails.

I loved this book. I hesitate to recommend it to others, however, because it is quirky and quirky is not for everyone. On the other hand, it's a short, easy read. Even though I'm not a fan of Neil Gaiman myself, I'm sure this book would appeal to Gaiman fans.

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