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“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

Nataliya's quotes

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

Creepily disturbing "We Have Always Lived In the Castle" by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ott, Jonathan Lethem
Bizarre, strange, haunting, sinister, disturbing, twisted, foreboding, suffocatingly claustrophobic, leaving you with the ever-growing sense of unease. What else can I say about this book to give it justice?

This is a chillingly terrifying story that has nothing to do with the things that go BUMP in the night. No, it's the odd terror that comes when things go BUMP in the mind. And the most terrifying things are those that are left unsaid, that creep up at you from behind the printed lines, just hinted at and left for your own brain to chillingly realize.
“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Behind the events of the story is the mystery of the Blackwood family, rich New England landowners who are quite well-aware of their presumed class-snobbish superiority over the inhabitants of the nearby village; the family which is in turn met with distrust, fear and even hatred - not quite unfounded, actually. You see, six years ago half of the members of the Blackwood family were poisoned by arsenic in their food. Three are left: Uncle Julian, left crippled by the poison, hanging on to the remnants of his mind, obsessed with the tragedy of the day of the murder; Constance, an agoraphobiac trapped in the narrow confines of her domestic universe, cooking for the remnants of her family with a strained chirpy attitude - a young woman who was also the cook on the day of the fateful arsenic poisoning and therefore is considered the poisoner in the eyes of the villagers; and Mary Katherine, Merricat, the narrator of the story, now eighteen, who was sent to her room without dinner on the day of the poisoning, who now serves as a link between her diminished and scorned family and the rest of the world.

For a careful reader, the identity of the poisoner is really very easy to figure out after the first few pages. The psychological impact is never about the identity, it's about the implications of it. And that's what gives it a real punch.
“I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
This strange little family survives without ever deviating from their strict routines, remaining shut off from the outside world until one day an unexpected arrival threatens the fragile stability - of the family and of Merricat's mind. And the events that follow lead to the scariest and saddest ending presented in the most chillingly subtle way possible.

“I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain of dying. I would help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs.Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true." 


Our narrator, Merricat Blackwood, is not a character you can easily forget. She is written with such skill, with such vividness, with such persuasion that the pages come alive with her bizarre voice of a seemingly adult woman forever trapped in neverending childhood, in the world of twisted magical reality of strange rituals and special objects and strict routine that can never be changed, or else.
"On Sunday morning the change was one day nearer. I was resolute about not thinking my three magic words and would not let them into my mind, but the air of change was so strong that there was no avoiding it; change lay over the stairs and the kitchen and the garden like fog. I would not forget my magic words; they were MELODY GLOUCESTER PEGASUS, but I refused to let them into my mind."
And the scariest thing of all to me was how more and more enthralling Merricat's voice became with every page, with every minute spent inside her head, until it's hard not to take her side despite all the implications that it carries, despite reason suggesting otherwise, despite knowledge of what's going on. And that's when you realize the magnetic pull Merricat has, holding her little world together in the ways that suit her - little world it may be, but it's wholly her own, steadily holding against anything that can be perceived as a disturbance, an interference, a threat. And the words of her little game in the summerhouse take on a new resonance.
“Bow your heads to our beloved Mary Katherine…or you will be dead.”
I found this book deeply disturbing in its deceiving simplicity, and scarily engrossing - the book written by an oddball ostracized agoraphobiac obsessed with food and trapped in her own little universe by the last years of her life. Shirley Jackson's Constance and Merricat, securely huddled in their own little corner of the world, not accepted but feared and left alone, the heart of legends and superstitions - was it in a way a cry for help or an unattainable dream? I don't know, and I think I sleep better precisely because I don't know.

Unflinching 5 stars and a shudder at the seemingly so innocent of an ending:
“Oh Constance, we are so happy."