Mary Katherine Blackwood, 'Merricat', is eighteen and lives with her sister, Constance, and Uncle Julian in a large house on the outskirts of the town:
"I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had."
The family are hated and despised by the people of the town and Mary, when she goes on her regular shopping expeditions, has to run the gauntlet of nasty comments from adults and taunting from the town's children. It soom becomes apparent that the town's hatred is based upon a court case that took place some years before. Constance was accused of putting arsenic it the sugar and thereby bringing about the deaths of her parents, an aunt, and a brother. She was aquitted of this crime but the family's notoriety has forced them into a reclusive lifestyle and Constance has not stepped outside their fenced in land since the trial. The girls' uncle is very elderly and his mind is wandering.
Into this mix wanders cousin Charles, banging on the door until he's reluctantly allowed in.
"He knocked, quietly at first and then firmly, and I leaned against the door, feeling the knocks hit at me, knowing how close he was. I knew already that he was one of the bad ones; I had seen his face briefly and he was one of the bad ones, who go around and around the house, trying to get in, looking in the windows, pulling and poking and stealing souvenirs."
Mary hates him on sight but Constance is much more willing to allow him to stay for a while. Slowly but surely he ingratiates himself with Constance, while slyly revealing his nasty side only to Mary. The girls' quiet, ordered life is destroyed; something will have to be done...
Well, this was an interesting little book. I have to say upfront that I didn't love it. I liked it, but somehow or other it didn't quite deliver for me. The writing was superb, I will say that, beautifully written in the first person, the author got right inside Mary Katherine's head. And a very confusing place it was! In that respect it was a very clever novel. I think the problem for me was that I guessed the secret of the story straightaway and was really expecting a further twist which never materialised. But that was my only complaint really.
The atmosphere in the book is genuinely creepy, even malicious in places, and very claustrophobic. I don't think I've read anything quite like it to be honest, partly because I don't think Shirley Jackson is a well known author in the UK and I've just never been exposed to her writing. I'd only really come across her more recently as the author of The Lottery a story to which Danielle of A Work in Progress directed her readers to some months ago. What a huge body of work, from all over the world, us pre-internet folk were denied all those years ago! But anyway, that's a whole 'nother story as they say. I enjoyed my first book for the RIP IV challenge and am looking forward to more now.
And because my trip to Stourhead on Monday resulted in some photos that are misty, rather autumnal and thus quite RIP-ish in atmosphere, I shall put them in this post rather than make a separate post of them.
The National Trust gardens of Stourhead in Wiltshire: