An entire family was poisoned, and I know who did it.

Well, that’s not exactly true. It wasn’t the entire family that was poisoned, oh, no, not really. One person, a young girl name Constance, was spared, you see—an uncle did not receive enough poison to end his life—and another young girl, Mary Katherine, was sent to bed so that she could not partake in any portion of a rather tainted meal. So there were survivors, I guess. But after reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, I now know who killed the rest of the Blackwood family.

And so can you, if you read the novel.

Now, I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House (one of the best haunted house tales ever told) as well as The Lottery; I’m not new to Shirley Jackson’s work. Yet, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t prepared for just how odd the story could get. It is a story of bad people on the outside penetrating the soft interior life of two young girls and their uncle; it is a story of one bad person on the inside, one person who is insane, maintaining a life most could only wish for.

The writing is what keeps the story creepy. Jackson is amazing in her ability to put the odd down on paper, and she does so in this novel, which is an agoraphobic’s nightmare (and all reports indicate that Jackson, herself, suffered from agoraphobia—the plot thickens, as they say). Her repetitions, sparse variation of description, and her ability to create tension out of a mere stroll through town, make this novel a nail-biter. Add in the abstract imaginings of a young girl as told through the pen of Jackson, and, well, you’ve got yourself a classic work of horror fiction.

If you’re interested in the history of horror fiction, read this. If you’re interested in authors of horror fiction who also happen to be female, read this. If you’re in the mood for a good old-fashioned spooking, read this. If you don’t want to read this, because I said ‘read this’ five times too fast, blame me, not Jackson—blame me, but, still, get a copy of the book. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Review by David M. Wilson

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