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Faces look ugly when you’re alone

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle

 

It figures that a book about people who are happy in their isolation would resonate with me. Shirley Jackson’s self proclaimed “paean to agoraphobia” gives of a sense of unease even during what should be the most mundane domestic scenes.

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, her sister Constance and their ailing uncle Julian are the surviving members of a once prestigious family. The surviving Blackwoods are hated and ridiculed by the surrounding villagers due to an incident which resulted in the death of Merricat and Constance’s parents, brother and aunt (Julian’s wife). Constance has not ventured past her garden in six years and Julian is too ill to go out, leaving Merricat to brave a twice weekly trip into town for groceries and library books. She faces the scorn of the villagers wherever she goes. Despite this, the three of them are content in their isolated routine. Things are soon disrupted when the girls’ cousin Charles Blackwood shows up at their door and begins to ingratiate himself to Constance.

The unease that pervades the book as soon as cousin Charles arrives is palpable. The reader knows that nothing but disaster can come from the arrival of this interloper. And when disaster comes (spoiler?) it’s almost a relief to have it over and done with. Jackson clearly understands isolation and social anxiety and turns out a classic of modern psychological horror.

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