Monday, March 22, 2010

#18 - We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
By: Shirley Jackson
160 pages
Published: 1962
ISBN: 0143039970
My Copy: Borrowed from library

I was in my local bookstore a few weeks ago and saw this book in with other classics of literature which had just received spiffy new covers from Penguin Books. Though I had heard of all the others (Little Women, Moby Dick, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, etc.) neither the title of this book or its author was familiar to me. It was thin (which I like), by a female author (which I like), and available (also good), so, I trotted over to the library and picked up a copy.

Wow, am I ever glad that Penguin re-did these covers, because We Have Always Lived in the Castle is incredible. I love picking up a book and having no expectations about it, so I won't ruin it for you by going into the plot at all. I will just say that Shirley Jackson is an amazing writer and the story is intense and unexpected and wonderful.

After I finished this book, I hurried out and got The Haunting of Hill House, Life Among the Savages, and The Lottery and Other Stories. I quickly read her most famous short story, The Lottery, and it was amazing (I can't believe I had never read it before). If you haven't read it you should drop everything and do it now (it's pretty short, so it won't take long). That ending is still haunting me.

Her books and stories just have such a unique sensibility. I'd call it horror or Gothic, but it's not really. Her tone is very grounded, but the events she describes are out of the ordinary. As with The Lottery, one of her main strengths as a writer is her ability to just tell you what is happening without a lot of explanation about the motives and reasoning of the characters. It's amazing. In my wildest dreams, I would write half as well as she does.

If you haven't read any Shirley Jackson yet, rush out and do so. Her work is short, gripping, and will stay with you long afterwards. Look for more reviews of her work to come.

Rating: A-

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