A Castle Possessed

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
By Shirley Jackson
146 pp. Penguin. $17.

I like to base what I read and watch around the seasons, so in the dark, rainy days of late October in the Pacific Northwest I dived into a series of more thrilling reads, culminating in “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” This past weekend I also took a trip to the little independent cinema down the street to watch a restored version of Andrzej Żuławski’s jaw-dropping 1981 film “Possession,” which most certainly influenced my feelings about this.

Is anything I just read real?

Did that actually happen?

Who really was responsible for what happened to the Blackwoods?

What exactly is the relationship between Constance and Merricat?

Why are the villagers so hostile?

Or are they hostile at all?

You’ll find answers to some of these questions here, while you’ll be left to ponder others for weeks. But damn, this is such an enthralling read! The story itself, if someone were to describe it to you, may not exactly sound like riveting stuff, but the characters are so beautifully drawn, the writing so rich, that you can’t help but be pulled in. Think one-part David Lynch, two-parts Patricia Highsmith, and you’ve got some idea of the style.

Merricat, the 18-year-old at the heart of this tale, is our narrator, though you’d be forgiven for thinking that she isn’t much younger. She seems much younger, perhaps as young as 12, her age at the time of the, erm, incident.

But no, no spoilers for me! And speaking of spoilers, skip that Introduction in the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition by Jonathan Lethem until after you’ve read the book. Why publishers insist on including introductions that often give important plot details away, based, it would seem, on the assumption that everyone who’s picked up this edition is re-reading rather than reading for the first time, is a rant best saved for later.

For now, though, I just want someone to talk through this with! What does it all mean??? Is there a book club out there I can join where we can discuss this, please??

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