We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – a house of ordinary horror
Or I could give you all these things in one neat package, wrapped in disquiet and tied with unease. Jackson, who died 50 years ago, is perhaps best known for her short story The Lottery and her novel The Haunting of Hill House, twice-filmed and considered to be the last word in haunted-house tales. They are Mary Katherine — Merricat — who is 18, headstrong and simultaneously naive and worldly; and older sister Constance, who ventures no further than her garden in the rambling, tumbledown grounds of the Blackwood family home, perched aloof above the small town.
The Blackwood girls are the last surviving remnants of this grand old family, along with Uncle Julian, infirm in body and often in mind. The rest of the dynasty was wiped out when someone put arsenic in the sugar bowl and the family, as was their wont, sprinkled it on dessert.
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Merricat had been sent to her room before supper, so had no pudding. Constance took no sugar. And Uncle Julian only a little, so though poisoned with the rest of them he survived, albeit with ailing health.
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As one might expect, a mythology grows around the surviving Blackwoods, with Constance generally believed to have committed the murders. After all, did she not wash out the sugar bowl before the police arrived, on the pretext of there being a spider in it? Only Merricat ventures infrequently into town, to collect groceries and books from the library, and when she does she is greeted by the cruel rhymes of children:.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep? Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!
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Unsurprisingly, Merricat is a troubled young woman, marking the bounds of the Blackwood land with fetishes and totems made from scraps and trinkets, fiercely protective of her sister, and marking her days with little OCD rituals. How did his father die? How did he reappear, sans frostbite? Why did the warden kill himself?
Did God speak to the warden? And if not God, who?
Is the psychic woman actually psychic? So many questions. Some of them are answered, and some of them — in the first few episodes, at least — are not. Then there are the Easter eggs. And let me tell you, for the King aficionado, this is a feast. The man who finds young Henry Deaver on the ice is a sheriff, and when I realised that he was Alan Pangborn — the sheriff who oversaw Castle Rock in the s, who appeared in so many novels — I actually shouted his name out loud, as if this was some sort of game of Stephen King bingo.
And Terry Quinn, the warden who spoke to the devil?
Because, of course, this show needs to work for non-King fans. While the opening credits suggest this is a deep dive into his work, being little more than a series of manuscript pages from a variety of his novels, the truth is that the show itself has to be more.
And so far? It is.
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What the partnership between Abrams and King has cooked up here is quite remarkable: an eminently bingeable premium TV show that just happens to make me shiver with glee at the thought of my favourite characters popping up as the show goes on. Facebook Twitter Pinterest.
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