Six years after four family members died of arsenic poisoning, the three remaining Blackwoods—elder, agoraphobic sister Constance; wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian; and 18-year-old Mary Katherine, or, Merricat—live together in pleasant isolation. Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic to guard the estate against intrusions from hostile villagers. But one day a stranger arrives—cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune—and manages to penetrate into their carefully shielded lives. Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods, resulting in crisis, tragedy, and the revelation of a terrible secret.
©1962 Shirley Jackson (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“At certain moments, quietly, in quick, subtle transitions of tone, Miss Jackson can summon up stark terror, make your blood chill and your scalp prickle....To all the classic paraphernalia of the spook story, she adds a touch of Freud….” (New York Times Book Review)
Mary Katherine ("Merricat") and Constance Blackwood live with their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian in their once-grand family home. The wealthy Blackwoods have always been ostracized by the local townspeople, but when almost the entire Blackwood clan is wiped out by arsenic poisoning, the survivors become outcasts, hated and shunned. Constance was tried for the crime but acquitted; now she hides in her home, unable to face the accusing eyes and jeers of the outside world.
The story is narrated from the viewpoint of Mary Katherine, whose life is full of strange rituals and talking to her cat, Jonas. She is fascinated with poisonous herbs, she fantasizes about living on the moon, and she wants most of all to live with her sister Constance and never see anyone else. She creates magic words, buries things in the yard, and uses other spell-like rituals to "protect" the house and her sister, and since Merricat is the one telling the story, it's not clear whether she's really crazy or not.
The story unfolds slowly until you have a pretty good idea of what really happened before it is revealed, but the brooding, sinister tone of this short novel is creepy and dark and gothic, and by the end, it's not clear who the real villains are: the person who murdered an entire family, the greedy cousin who shows up looking for the supposed fortune hidden in the house, or the envious, grudging, small-minded villagers who feign concern and hospitality while mocking the Blackwood girls behind their backs.
Not t your typical horror story; all the deaths have already happened before the book begins, and if you are looking for elements of the supernatural, you will have to look hard. This is what you might call an American psychological thriller, where the horror is what is very subtly revealed about Merricat and Constance and the Blackwood family, and the nature of ordinary people in ordinary small towns.
I know this is a classic, and I really wanted to like it based on other works by Shirley Jackson, but I just can't. It's such a slow start, and the narrator (the character, not the voice actor) is so unreliable that I could not sustain my interest in her story. Dull.
I love audiobooks!
This book was a surprise to me. It's very haunting and an interesting world to be in. I love Merricat and Constance's relationship. My partner hit the nail on the head when she said that this book is Lizzie Borden meets Grey Gardens.
I would recommend this to anyone and will likely read it again.
Flipside Fairy Tale
Shirley Jackson is an amazing yarn-spinner - her deliberate slow display of telling details and wonderful way of evoking an atmosphere is unparalleled.
Merricat - the first person narrator of the story - Bernadette Dunne does an amazing job!
No - I wanted to stretch out the enjoyment!
This is an excellent creepy story from a young girl's point of view and I thought it was excellent and much better than Hill House which is the one everyone reads. I tell them don't bother with Hill, go with this. It is a bit like the Other by Tom Tryon which I wish would show up some day. Jackson is a good writer and there are a couple more of her's I hope show up too, Sundial, Hangsaman, and maybe they'll be just as good as this.
Classic Shirley Jackson horror, creepy and atmospheric. The narrator was excellent, really brought the book to life.
This is an American masterpiece, a classic that has been grossly overlooked in classes across the nation. Shirley Jackson created fiercely real character who will engage, entice and disgust you. Written in the 1960s is is scary how little things have changed. So many classrooms could benefit from this wonderful short novel.
I live in a big house by the Baltic sea in Gävle, Sweden. I am married and have three teenagers and one dog. I read books, buy books and blog about books. If I don´t read I knit, sew or quilt.
It is not at all the horror story I thought it was. It is a creepy, affectionate and beautiful story of insanity, loneliness and hatred. Merricat is one of the most fascinating literary characters I've met. It's very hard not to like her and feel sorry for her and at the same time there is an uncanny feeling about her. A must read!
The narrator is totally creepy, and the story is like the Addams Family for grownups. I absolutely loved it. I mean, the "mystery" part is not so much a mystery. I won't spoil it for anyone, but I figured it out relatively quickly, but there was something in the narrative that sort of makes me think you're supposed to. The mystery isn't really the point.
I love this book, and can see myself listening to it over and over.
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