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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

By Shirley Jackson

Here is a book I’ve heard about for years, it seems like, but only sort of vaguely; I realized, in fact, that I had conflated it in my mind with Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle.” I don’t know how much the two novels are alike, but Jackson’s short novel could only come from her imagination: a nightmarish tale of village paranoia, it’s about the remnants of a family most of whom were poisoned at dinner one night. Oldest sister Constance was tried for their murders of her parents, aunt, and brother but acquitted for lack of evidence. Now she lives with her fantasizing sister, Merricat, and their Uncle Julian, whose physical and mental health were destroyed by the attempted poisoning. The three of them are reviled by the town for the most part. They tolerate weekly visits from the few who try to draw them back into the community. When a cousin shows up with a fairly transparent interest in the money he believes Constance and Merricat have squirreled away, their demented domesticity is shattered forever. Narrated by Merricat, the novella has a mordantly funny voice, although her fear of outsiders, though totally justified, as it turns out, is still pretty oppressive. I enjoyed it, but I’m glad it wasn’t very long. All of my long TBR Challenge books are still ahead of me!

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