‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ – Shirley Jackson

London, November 2018


Living in the Blackwood family home with her older sister Constance and her Uncle Julian, Katherine (or Merricat) wants to keep the world out. But with Constance acquitted of murdering the rest of the Blackwood family, the surviving members are little short of local spectacle. Things are manageable until a long-lost cousin Charles appears, his arrival offering the remaining Blackwoods a choice that could totally fracture them.


This was astonishingly good, one of those that I’d been delaying reading in case I didn’t like it (weird I know). Told over less than 150 pages, the characters and sense of both physical and spiritual claustrophobia remained with me.

Yes it was haunting (which I’m sure I’m not the first person to observe) as well as a visceral examination of the implications of family love.

Vague spoilers ahead…

The twist at the end has been mirrored countless times so I half expected the villain to be someone other than poor Constance, the tragedy being that Merricat’s survival hanged on the complicit happiness of her sister.

The development of the sisters into a local menacing folklore was powerful – the power of the mob seen more sickeningly within these pages than anywhere I’ve read in a while.

‘Lady Oracle’ – Margaret Atwood

London, August 2018


Joan Foster leads a double life as a period romance writer before she fakes her own death and regenerates in Terremoto, Italy. The narrative jumps back to Joan’s early life and highlights the events that led to that point: a fat-shaming mother, bullying at Brownies, a father estranged by the war and the series of romances none of which allowed her, really, to just be Joan.


A lot happens in this. The childhood and adolescent years were, for me, the stand-out sections, particularly the high school years in which she recognises that she’s won the trust and confidence of ‘friends’ by allowing herself to be the the non-threatening fat friend.

There are aspects of spiritualism that run throughout the novel, instigated by a church visit with her Aunt Lou, one of the only decent adults in Joan’s teenage life. There’s a moment in which Joan’s astral mother appears to a Spiritualist to tell Joan that she’s worried about her. If nothing else, I loved this for the confusion and awful communication that can arise between mothers and daughters in those years, particularly where Joan’s mother is depicted as her most vociferous critic.

Joan is a hundred different people throughout but her voice remains the same. It’s nice to imagine we’re like that – an unwaveringly ‘me’ voice that stays throughout the good and bad. I wondered on reflection is this an examination of the soul over the series of hurts, action and inaction.


‘Most of the time I was on the side of the optimistic caterpillar; but in my gloomiest moments I would thing, So what if I turn into a butterfly? Butterflies die too.’

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