Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me.'

That's what the village children chant when they see Mary Katherine Blackwood, who is 18 years old, and lives with her sister Constance. 'I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.'

I love this cover, far more atmospheric than my free-with-The-Times Penguin edition. And I'm not going to say too much here because one of the best things about this book is the way Shirley Jackson drip-drip-drips clues about the two strange sisters who live alone in a rather wonderful house. (Eating rather wonderful meals because Constance is an excellent cook ... don't you love books that describe rum cakes for tea and rose-coloured china, and tiny thin hot pancakes for breakfast?)

It builds up to a climax that's reminiscent of Jackson's horrifying story The Lottery. And as she leaves plenty of room for the reader's imagination to go off at tangents, I'm still puzzling over the Blackwoods and how Merricat got to be like she is ... doesn't the father sound overbearing?doesn't the parents' marriage sound as if something wasn't quite right? There aren't any answers, just niggling, unsettling hints to worry your mind.

It was a delight to read something short and gripping - you could read it in an evening - after unrewarding weeks plodding through The Lacuna.
Which really wasn't worth it.


Carolyn said...

Ooh, I would like to read about rum cakes for tea and rose-coloured china, even if this book looked a bit too disturbing for me before... I'll have to think about it now.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it wonderful? I could tell that Mary Katherine was a bit of an odd one straight away. It was the death cap mushrooms that did it!

What a shame you didn't enjoy The Lacuna. I need to try Barbara Kingsolver one of these days.

mary said...

Hello Carolyn, nice to meet you! It's unsettling rather than scare-the-life-out-of-you and although there's a hint of The Lottery, it is only a hint (because The Lottery is the most unnerving thing I've ever read!).

Rachel, I think it's fair to say that Merricat is a rum 'un. Don't be put off Barbara Kingsolver, because The Poisonwood Bible is wonderful. Though I don't think I'll be picking her up again for a while!

Darlene said...

This is a book that I've already decided will be for next October's spooky read. And oh Mary, definitely yes to the rum cake for tea and rose-coloured china! Phrases like that are just the thing to have me walking briskly towards the sales counter with the book in question under my arm.

mary said...

Next October... Darlene, you are so organised! (Is it spooky? More suspenseful, I'd say.)
But I wish it came with a recipe for rum cakes.

Darlene said...

I suppose I meant spooky in more of an 'atmospheric' way with the murders, arsenic and goodness knows what else! Rachel reviewed this book recently and I decided right then and there to make it my Hallowe'en read for next year.

Thomas at My Porch said...

I think this book is such a wonderfully cerebral horror story.

mary said...

I do feel tempted to read it again, Thomas, because I'm sure there's subtleties I missed galloping through it so fast.