Thursday, April 05, 2012
I've been meaning to write about Shirley Jackson's 20th century classic, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, for a couple of months now, and this month's topic around book covers from November's Autumn's Classic Challenge is all the incentive I needed.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a horror story, not a genre I read much, but it's gotten such rave reviews from fellow bloggers whose opinions I trust that I had to give it a try.
And it's cover? Awesome.
At least I think the cover of the Penguin Classics edition I have is awesome. It's sort of a cross between an Edward Gorey illustration for PBS Mystery and the woodcut illustrations of Fritz Eichenberg that grace my favorite editions of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It is perfect for this modern gothic tale, and absolutely captures the essence and themes of the novel. The illustrator is Thomas Ott, and I don't think Penguin could have picked a better artist to do the cover of this oh so creepy book.
Front and center we have an image of the novel's extremely unreliable narrator, Merricat, a young teenaged girl, holding her cat and facing the world grimly. Her big staring eyes convey her innocence, vulnerability, and that underlying psychosis she dances around so deftly.
Behind her is her sister Constance, which is apt because throughout the story Merricat continually conveys the impression that she is shielding Constance from the world. However, it's not clear from the cover whether Constance is hiding behind Merricat or is supporting her. Her hands on Merricat's shoulders have a maternal feel that makes the cover reflect the ambiguities of the story Merricat tells and the reality that the reader eventually pieces together.
Behind Merricat and Constance, in the background, are the villagers who shun them after the "accident" that kills the rest of their family and who eventually storm their castle. True to the book, they display a range of emotions from shock and horror to mockery or what might even be interpreted as friendliness.
To be honest, I didn't love the book. I'm glad I read it, and I found it morbidly interesting and the unreliability of the narrator to be fascinating, but I felt a great sense of relief when I finished it and could put it safely back on the shelf. It wasn't a comfortable read, but I admire Jackson's writing tremendously. She really is the queen of modern gothic--her short story, The Lottery, is absolutely chilling and is a masterpiece of American fiction as is We Have Always Lived in the Castle.