We read for a variety of reasons, don’t we? To escape, to entertain, to learn… but sometimes there’s something delicious about reading to be unnerved. This is quite a new experience for me, but one that I’m more open to since I no longer have to read for work. I blame Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done for making me realise that feeling thoroughly creeped out whilst you read is a Good Thing.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is widely thought to be Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece; written during a time that she was in declining physical and mental health, it paints a picture of a claustrophobic household trapped together because of tragedy. Six years after the murder by poisoning of her family and the acquittal of her sister of the crime, Mary Katherine (aka Merricat) lives with her reclusive older sister and frail, ill uncle. As a family, they are largely demonised and mocked by the inhabitants of the small town where they live and generally keep to themselves. However, their world is turned upside down by the arrival of suave and cunning Cousin Charles, who upsets Merricat’s sense of order and the world in which she lives.
It’s a slim novel, but one that’s in some ways heavy to read. Throughout, I felt an ominous sense of paranoia and unease- I had to be in the right frame of mind to read it. Merricat’s an unreliable, unstable narrator and she’s not exactly likeable, but all the same, you become swept up in her childlike view of the world. (Also, her cat is called Jonas, which I think is perhaps the greatest cat name of all time.) I can see why Jackson has been cited as an influence of so many modern writers- she drags your psyche along for quite a ride.