Strengths: Chilling and keeps you guessing!
Weaknesses: Sometimes a little too cold hearted for me.
Why I read it: A Popular Penguin.
Published: 2010 (original 1962)
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Setting: Country house
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
In my quest to read as many of the Popular Penguin series as possible, I thought this would be a Gothic tale in the tradition of the Bronte sisters or more recently, Kate Morton. A slim volume (probably more of a novella), this book is eerie with Gothic overtones. As the book continues, I got more and more of a sense of unease until its creepy conclusion.
The book is told by Merricat, or Mary Katherine Blackwood. Her family – or what remains of it, after a number of them were poisoned after a dinner party – live outside a village where they are shunned by the townspeople. Merricat’s sister, Constance, was acquitted of murdering the family, but there is a lot of suspicion that remains. When a cousin comes to visit the Blackwoods, things begin to take a turn for the worse with disastrous consequences.
Merricat’s character is slowly revealed through the course of the book and my opinion of her changed as each revelation appeared. Perhaps she’s not just young and immature, perhaps Constance is innocent, and perhaps the poisoning wasn’t an accident. The reaction of the townspeople to the eccentric Blackwoods is disturbing, as most of them as easily led when the xenophobia gets out of control. The things they do to the Blackwoods are disgusting – and I’m not sure that leaving them food on the doorstep as a sign of remorse is adequate redemption.
This book is unsettling. The reader is left to draw a lot of conclusions for themselves, as nothing is spelled out. That adds to the haunting feeling, but also left me wondering whether I’d come to the right conclusions. Who was the murderer? Was it ‘right’ for the rest of the family to act the way they did? Exactly what is Merricat’s mental state? Constance’s?
A lot of people rate this book as one of their favourites. I wouldn’t count myself as being one of that number. I enjoyed The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan more as a tale of an unreliable narrator (although it definitely had no Gothic flavour to it)! It is, however, a great example of how people can act disgustingly when confronted with something a bit out of the ordinary.