Thoughts on reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

July’s bookclub book was We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This is a weird little book about two women who live in seclusion in the family home after one of them has killed the rest of the family.

I liked the style of the book. The language was quite poetic and magical. There was a sense of unreality as we were viewing the world through the point of view of a narrator with, probably, mental illness. The setting was given richness and depth by the lushness of the language. Merricat’s mental and emotional life is vividly realised; the scenes where the villagers express their fear and hate are moving and her desire to be safe is understandable.

What was frustrating was the amount of the story that was kept from the reader. I wanted to know what had happened, why the villagers hated them, why the girl had killed her family. But I’m the sort of person that likes to understand things, to know why, and I think that probably says more about me as a reader. Thinking as a writer, I can see that it is tempting to include everything you know about a story, and what power Jackson gives her novella by witholding so much information.

I’m not sure I enjoyed reading this – it is literary fiction after all – but it was very well written and there’s lots to learn from it.

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