We Have Always Lived in the Castle, By Shirley Jackson

Lesley McDowell
Sunday 15 November 2009 01:00 GMT

Shirley Jackson's brilliant kind of American Gothic is offered up for our consumption in this, her final novel, first published in 1962. She liked to mix the gothic and the domestic and much of her writing centred on houses; a reflection, perhaps, of how the domestic sphere impinged on women's lives after the Second World War.

Merricat lives with her sister, Constance, who likes to grow her own vegetables and make delicious food, and her old Uncle Julian, in a grand old house on the edge of a village. But she and her family are shunned by the villagers, as a crime has been committed in the house: Merricat's parents, her brother and her aunt died from arsenic poisoning, a crime for which Constance had been charged but acquitted.

We see the situation through Merricat's eyes, witnessing the small-minded actions of the villagers, as well as the superficially friendly cousin Charles, who arrives to disrupt their precarious calm, from her somewhat damaged perspective.

Jackson doesn't just offer up a picture of small-town America or family obligations; she also depicts a mind that operates by values that cannot be accommodated by the safe world of Mom and apple pie.

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