WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
The best works of fiction are those that absorb you to such an extent that they become a work of non-fiction, in that the world youâ€™re drawn into is real and utterly absorbing. This is one of those memorable literary experiences.
Itâ€™s a particular treat if you like your fiction dark and bewitching. Imagine a black cat, illuminated by a candle atop a skull, sitting in an old ruined castle, in New Orleans, on Halloween, surrounded by leaping vampires and cackling witches, as the wind tears through the trees, on the night of a full moon. It still wouldnâ€™t be as deliciously Gothic as this masterly crafted tale.
Sisters Constance and Mary (Merricat) Blackwood, live with their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian and cat Jonas, in a large, remote house on the edge of a small New England town. Theyâ€™re the last of a large, moneyed family, the rest of the clan having been poisoned at dinner a few years earlier â€“ an event from which Uncle Julian has never recovered, physically or mentally. The story is narrated by Merricat, a precocious, spiteful, charming, complex and totally loopy anti-heroine, who spends her time wishing people dead, smashing mirrors and casting spells in her efforts to maintain the trioâ€™s reclusive status quo.
The creeping tension in the story hinges around the poisoning of the Blackwood family (a classic whodunit) and the arrival of an unpleasant relative who acts as a catalyst for terrible changes. This is a world of black hearts and deranged desires. Yet within it, we also find gentleness, love and kindness. For me, it was this see-saw blend of light and dark (mostly dark to be fair) that made the tale so intriguing. Books donâ€™t become literary classics without good reason. Read it and youâ€™ll be charmed and chilled in equal measure.