24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: horror

Abby Reads: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Viking Press, 1962, 214 pages
Fiction

Living with her sister Constance and Uncle Julian in a large house in New England as outcasts, Mary Katherine (Merricat) of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is comfortable in her life despite the death of nearly her entire family some six years prior to the events of the novel. When 89724cousin Charles shows up and relentlessly inquires about and comments on the sisters’ financial state, Merricat is reluctant to trust him while Constance is charmed by Charles’s romantic advances. In a story that feels half wrought with horror and half with the stuff of fairy tales, Jackson reveals the creeping underside of the Blackwood family while underscoring the poison that is ostracism.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an enduring work of slow and dripping dread that dawns on the reader as Jackson peels away the layers of the Blackwood family and Merricat as a character. Despite the brevity of the text, the novel provides plenty to dissect. The most interesting of these aspects, I think, is the subtle and fascinating psychological study Jackson does of her characters, which, with the eighteen-year-old as the narrator, focuses on Merricat. Although the novel was published in 1962, Jackson makes incredibly astute observations about mental illnesses we might recognize as something like sociopathy today. Though psychological science had come quite a ways from Freud by this time, Jackson’s sophisticated and subtle depiction of the psyche of the Blackwoods feels years ahead of its time.

Beyond the individual, Jackson also examines society and the psychology of guilt. It’s difficult to discuss this point without giving too much away, but the theme of food returns in a fascinating way again and again throughout the novel, including in instances as a show of repentance. Jackson considers the reason behind the show of guilt and how people feel compelled to seek forgiveness, often, it seems, more for their own sakes and peace of mind rather than for those they’ve done wrong.

All of these philosophies (and certainly there’s far more to digest than what is merely mentioned above) are delivered through Merricat, whose voice is a swift and strong kick in the teeth from the get-go. We Have Always Lived in the Castle’s iconic opening paragraph is a delicious taste of the originality in the articulation to come and its a pleasure to read and reread Merricat’s thoughts in her distinct style.

And what’s more, is Jackson-as-writer manages layers that Merricat-as-narrator likely does not intend. This allows for a slow, sort of subtle story that heightens the spooky mood and ambiguous supernatural elements. To Merricat, this is just her life, but the very exact way in which Jackson tells the story makes the novel a piece of literature with more than enough to ponder upon for days after the reader finishes the novel.

In fact, a couple of weeks after finishing We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I’m still thinking about it. It’s not a book I feel I understand completely — and even if I read it several more times, I don’t think I could understand it completely: that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. It is a show of mastering storytelling elements that few can even articulate, let alone implement. We Have Always Lived in the Castle left me hungry for more of Merricat and her family, of the world they lived in, and of gothic horror as a whole. While Jackson only gives us a few short pages to inhabit, the story lives well beyond those pages and opens up a reality for readers who wish to be creepily brushed with horror in the most unsettling and realistic way.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Books with Bite

Around the beginning of autumn, it’s easy to fall into the spirit of the season. Pumpkin spice starts appearing in stores in absurd amounts, party stores suddenly become Halloween emporiums, and the idea of curling up with a spooky read and a cup of your favorite fall beverage is awfully tempting. Vampires, werewolves, and other monsters-turned-romantics might have somewhat gone out of style since the Twilight boom, but the pseudo-genre still has its fans. While at the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Public Library system in Alexandria, VA, I put together this book display of books featuring our fang-toothed friends. While many of of the titles include elements of paranormal romance, several are your standard young adult horror fare.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

The sign for this display was inspired by this incredible large-scale piece. I was totally blown away by that work and, with my limited space, wanted to do something similar. This worked pretty well and added a nice three-dimensional aspect to a small space without overwhelming it. Plus, it was creepy and horror-inspired without too much gore. I really love the thorny background, which beckons feelings of fantasy.

Young Adult Horror Novels Book Display

Using the beloved “Chiller” font, I inserted some super-simple bookmarks that alerted browsers that the books were on display to be checked out.

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Young Adult Horror Book Display

Finding books to include was easy enough — quick subject searches of the four kinds of monsters I focused on yielded tons of results and even browsing what was on our shelves for books with the horror genre sticker led to several finds.  This is the time to start thinking about Halloween and horror displays. You might find some of the forgotten novels of last year’s (okay, 2007’s) genre find new hands and eyes with something fun and spooky!

Abby Reads: Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender
Disney-Hyperion, 2010, 352 pages
YA Horror/Mystery

Alexis’ little sister is acting weird. She’s withholding information, obsessing over a school project, and generally being a brat. Meanwhile, Alexis is dealing with the usual trials of high school: boys, popularity, and general adolescent discontent. At least she’s got Megan and their growing friendship. But will Alexis’ equally growing knowledge about her sister challenge that friendship?

Alexis is a caricature of every I’m-so-goth-and-hate-cheerleaders character I’ve ever read. She consistently complains about every aspect of her life, making it incredibly difficult to find anything likable about her and thus care about her story. The only thing in life she does seem to like is photography, which is frequently interrupted or damaged by her sister. Meanwhile, she struggles with her mother’s ambition, her father’s desire for a social life, and her sister’s little-sister-ness. She dislikes people based only on what they are, rather than who they are. And while she grows and finds a friend in Megan, this lesson does not seem to infect other people in her life. Her personality is uncomplicated and therefore uninteresting, while the remaining characters are similarly underdeveloped.

Overall, Bad Girls Don’t Die had an intricate plot involving too many dead characters to keep track. Partly because of the complicated structure and history of the novel, the horror of passages were lost. None of the scenes were truly scary, leaving the story with one less element to increase its value.

Alender’s writing style is generally unremarkable, though not poor. The occasional phrase stood out as something unique and beautiful. In general, the sentence structure, vocabulary choices, and voice was nothing spectacular.

Bad Girls Don’t Die seems to tie up nicely, but is followed by a sequel, From Bad to Cursed.

💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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