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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) Paperback – Deckle Edge, October 31, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

Visitors call seldom at Blackwood House. Taking tea at the scene of a multiple poisoning, with a suspected murderess as one's host, is a perilous business. For a start, the talk tends to turn to arsenic. "It happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night," explains Uncle Julian, continually rehearsing the details of the fatal family meal. "My sister made these this morning," says Merricat, politely proffering a plate of rum cakes, fresh from the poisoner's kitchen. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson's 1962 novel, is full of a macabre and sinister humor, and Merricat herself, its amiable narrator, is one of the great unhinged heroines of literature. "What place would be better for us than this?" she asks, of the neat, secluded realm she shares with her uncle and with her beloved older sister, Constance. "Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people." Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, ritually revisiting them. She has made "a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us" against the distrust and hostility of neighboring villagers.

Or so she believes. But at last the magic fails. A stranger arrives--cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune. He disturbs the sisters' careful habits, installing himself at the head of the family table, unearthing Merricat's treasures, talking privately to Constance about "normal lives" and "boy friends." Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods. The result is crisis and tragedy, the revelation of a terrible secret, the convergence of the villagers upon the house, and a spectacular unleashing of collective spite.

The sisters are propelled further into seclusion and solipsism, abandoning "time and the orderly pattern of our old days" in favor of an ever-narrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated, darkly, with gifts. Jackson's novel emerges less as a study in eccentricity and more--like some of her other fictions--as a powerful critique of the anxious, ruthless processes involved in the maintenance of normality itself. "Poor strangers," says Merricat contentedly at last, studying trespassers from the darkness behind the barricaded Blackwood windows. "They have so much to be afraid of." --Sarah Waters --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Since the mysterious death of four family members, the superstitious Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, her ailing uncle Julian, and agoraphobic sister Constance have lived in a bizarre but contented state of isolation. But when cousin Charles arrives in search of the Blackwood fortune, a terrible family secret is revealed. Bernadette Dunne's reading is flawlessly paced and suspenseful. The voices she provides the cast of characters are spot on: precocious Merricat is haunted and increasingly desperate; Constance is doting but detached; Uncle Julian is both pleasantly dotty and utterly unnerving; and Charles is the conniving villain listeners will love to hate. A treat for fans of mystery and suspense.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Deluxe edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143039970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143039976
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (336 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

293 of 316 people found the following review helpful By Annika ( on February 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
He pressured me into reading this book. "No, no," I objected, "I know about this Shirley Jackson; she's the one writes those scary books. I'd like to sleep tonight, thank you." Finally I gave in and picked it up. I didn't put it down until I had read the last word, and then only for long enough to get a glass of apple juice and demand to know why there wasn't more of it. Two weeks later, as I was reading it for about the ninetieth time, he suggested perhaps I ought to get some sleep, or some fresh air, or at least, if it wasn't too much to ask, a different book. "Fine," I snarled, "I'll try this HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE." But that's another review, and I still haven't gotten around to why I loved this book so much. It's been said, I believe, that Shirley Jackson was incapable of writing a bad, or poor, sentence. More accurate, I think, would be to say that she cannot (could not) write an imperfect one. Every word of every sentence on every page of WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE drew me in, captivated me, and made it impossible for me to not believe everything I was reading. It was as if, while reading the words of Merricat Blackwood, I was her; her "madness", if that is the word for the way she thought, felt, and acted, consumed me and I thought as she did. I cannot imagine a more magical book, a more fascinating story. I urge you to read this book if you care one shred for literature. It is, truly, a masterpiece.
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77 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Ashley on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am a big fan of Shirley Jackson. I first became interested in her after stumbling across a collection of her short stories, and since then, I have been hooked. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my favorite Shirley Jackson novel. The Haunting of Hill House has generated much more speculation and interest world-wide than did We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but in my opinion, there is much more to be said for this book. There is much more to this novel than it seems when you first start reading it. Many things throughout the book will appeal to you, and simultaneously tear your heart in two, like the villager's hatred of Merricat (the narrator and main character) and their horrible, shameful treatment of her.
This is a complex novel. It is not for everyone. It is a difficult read, because if you aren't into the book, then you won't understand what's going on. It reminds me of J.D. Salinger's. His books, especially if you've read his short stories, are to be puzzled over, yet never completely understood.
The story is about Merricat and Constance, two sisters who live isolated on the edge of town at Blackwood Manor. They seldom venture out of their home, and when they do are subjected to abuse at the hands of the villagers, who particularly enjoy throwing rocks at Merricat and calling her names. Readers come onto the scene of the story years after a poisoning during supper at Blackwood Manor, which killed most of the family. For years Merricat, their uncle, and Merricat's older sister Constance have lived in solitude until Charles, a distant cousin, comes calling. He plays upon Constance's desire for a normal life, telling her how unnatural her life is at Blackwood Manor, while at the same time displaying to the reader a strong interest in the family fortune.
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61 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Adam Days on March 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
This novel is a wonderful, delicous tale that only the late Ms. Jackson could possibly bestow on her fans. This novel is a deep journey into the psychological powers of us all. Merricat is a very real character, one that will and should be treasured by future generations as a wonderful priceless work of art. This is so much more than words on paper, this novel is a eerie lingering taste of true horror. Not the horror that authors such Stephen King or Anne Rice would write, not Shirley Jackson. This is another superb master-piece of psychological horror that can only be described as cryptic and beautiful. I HIGHLY recommended that you read this novel, it will teach you how to view circumstances and events in a different perscpitive...the Shirley Jackson perscpitive. I would love to rate this book with at least eight stars. ******** Wonderful, you won't be sorry if you read this. Constance is such a caring person, and Uncle Julian is so real that you actually begin to feel sorry for him. And Charles you will not like Charles. But Merricat, she is a divine work, a sweet little niave girl who wishes to live on the moon with Constance and Jonas, her cat. Breath-taking saga that only Shirley Jackson can create.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By My 2 Cents VINE VOICE on September 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think I am just about the only person out there who had not read Shirley Jackson's, We Have Always Lived in a Castle. Well, now I have, and this 146 page book left me feeling a bit unsettled. Creepy, atmospheric and beyond clever, this is one book that will leave some of you scratching your head when you get to the end.
In brief, Merrikat, as she prefers to be called, begins narrating this story in this way:

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, and I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phallaides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."

From the opening paragraph, I thought something is very strange about Merricat. She is eighteen and acts like a child. She is extremely superstitious, believing in signs and burying items in the ground to secure the property. She is also very protective of her sister. She lives with her sister and Uncle Julius, who on the surface appears to have some sort of dementia. The three of them live in a secluded mansion, and never leave the house, except for Merricat who ventures into town for necessities about twice a week. It is clear that the townspeople fear and dislike the remaining family members. The Blackwoods avoid the neighbors, preferring the security of seclusion. They even avoid the few who are friendly.
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