- File Size: 922 KB
- Print Length: 162 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Deluxe edition (October 31, 2006)
- Publication Date: October 31, 2006
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004SS1MH0
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,440 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“A witch’s brew of eerie power and startling novelty” —The New York Times
“I was thrilled by the genuine but meaningful strangeness of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” —George Saunders
“Jackson’s novel is so wonderfully creepy that students usually feel subversive just for reading it. Add to that one of the most brilliantly realized unreliable narrators in fiction and the book becomes irresistible.” —Marlon James
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
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I would give this story 5 stars, but the introduction ruined the story by spoiling every secret on the first page, so I have to rate this book a 4 star.
The story was gripping, unique, and quite dreamy. I had to know what would happen on each page. I will admit that I was rather upset with having read part of the introduction, because unfortunately, everything the author intended to be a twist had already been revealed to me.
The basis for this novel is a family, the Blackwoods, whose remaining family members have been ostracized by a small community. We learn why: a terrible tragedy years before—poisoning, it seems—took the lives of everyone of the Blackwood clan excerpt three, Uncle Julian, Constance, and the narrator, Mary Katherine(aka “Merricat”). Constance was suspected, but ultimately acquitted of the poisoning. Living a life mainly of alienation away from the whispers of this town, the Blackwoods are able to manage. Merricat believes in such things as omens, and is vastly different compared to her sister, Constance. Uncle Julian is an invalid because he did have a bit of the poison that claimed the other Blackwoods’ lives, but not enough to kill him. This is a book that is difficult to reveal too much about plot without spoiling, but, when a certain cousin Charles suddenly arrives to the Blackwood home, the plot thickens.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is very reminiscent of Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” in its themes of mob mentality. As the remaining family members by to go about their lives, they are often the subject of subtle and not so subtle taunts and threats.
There is a brilliantly atmospheric vibe to this novel. My feeling is that Shirley Jackson is incredibly underrated as an author, not being given quite the accolades she deserves. This book is one such example of her genius, an expertly crafted eerie tale with brilliant prose. It is a perfect book for a Halloween night.
Top international reviews
The story is told by Mary Katherine Blackwood (also known as Merricat, sometimes affectionately, but often as an insult by the people who live in the village). The Blackwoods are a wealthy family who have lived for generations in a large house surrounded by a large estate. "As soon as a new Blackwood wife moved in, a place was found for her belongings, and so our house was built up with layers of Blackwood property weighting it, and keeping it steady against the world."
Six years ago Merricat's father, mother, aunt and brother all died when arsenic was put into a sugar bowl. Merricat's elder sister Constance was arrested for the murders, but acquitted due to lack of evidence. Their Uncle Julian was the only other survivor. Everyone in the village hates the Blackwoods, although it is unclear whether this is due to their wealth, because they are 'different' or because one of them is believed to be a murderer. Merricat refuses to be intimidated and visits the village every Tuesday to buy groceries. Constance is agoraphobic and does not like to leave the house; Uncle Julian's mind is going and he is confined to a wheelchair.
At the start the story reads like a mystery. Why do the villagers hate the family so much? What did happen six years ago? Who was the murderer? The answers are dripped in very, very slowly. The writing style is deceptively simple and yet the tension curls tighter and tighter. It is closer to psychological suspense than horror. Is Merricat an 'unreliable' narrator? Every word she speaks is the truth - but it's the truth as she sees it. She casts spells, buries objects or nails them to the trees in the wood. Is she a witch or just completely bonkers?
When their estranged cousin turns up, hoping to divide and conquer, and make off with the family fortune, you just know it won't end well. But don't under-estimate the Blackwoods. They have always lived in the castle - and they always will.
Recommended if you love claustrophobic psychological suspense in the style of The Turn of the Screw. Avoid if you're a fan of fast-paced jump shocks and gore.
The 3 remaining Blackwoods live in their house isolated from the village with fences & padlocks & no trespassing signs.
Uncle Julian is by far my favourite character. A man of gentrification, wit & jolly good humour.
His memory varies from day to day, unsure on one day if the murders took place, the next being sure he dreamt them. He has written vast notes on the subject when he is well enough, recording everything of that fateful day. What everyone had for breakfast, the weather outside, the plates dinner was served from & of course the silver sugar bowl which was pickled with arsenic. Constance not taking sugar, survives.
As the rest of her family tuck into blackberries heavily sprinkled with sugar their fate is sealed. Uncle Julian having very little sugar survives but finds himself in the most disagreeable situation of being wheelchair bound & not the strong man he used to be.
Mary Katherine, Merricat as is her nickname is sent to bed without supper, no dinner for her, no blackberries & ultimately no sugar. She survives.
Merricat’s twice weekly walk to the village to get groceries earns her ridicule from the villagers, torment from the children, she escapes into the comfort of her own head, more often than not pretending she is on the moon. As a now 18 year old her perspective is still very much childlike. She treats her shopping trips like a game. Do not pass go, take 1 step back & has check points when she gets to certain stores.
The villagers disliked the Blackwoods, even more so now that there are very few remaining. The taunts & teasing are cruel, the villagers believe Constance who was tried & cleared of her familie’s murders, for she was the one who did the cooking, killed them & got away with it. Constance has not left the house or the grounds in the six years since being cleared of murder.
In the village there is a sense of ignorance, people of grandeur that have worked her are down trodden by the simple minded, they do not like that they were not cut from the same cloth as the Blackwood’s.
Merricat likes to bury things. Money, talismans, marbles, she nails her father’s pocketbook to a tree, she believes this wards off any ill will towards her family, but if these items are moved there is a chance evil can get to them. As she passes that very tree the pocketbook now strewn on the floor, it’s rusty nail no longer able to hold it in place she knows that evil is coming for them. That evil comes in the form of Charles.
Cousin Charles, his father the brother of John, Constance & Merricat’s father. They offered no support during the trial & severed all family ties. However, Arthur is now dead, and Charles, a scoundrel is very keen to get his feet under the table in the Blackwood household.
This was a very good story which I read in one sitting, not my favourite of Shirley Jacksons tales but very enjoyable, Uncle Julian is a fantastic character in his speech & his highly quotable lines include:
‘I think if I had known it was her last breakfast I would have permitted her more sausage’. Referring to his wife &:
‘I have no jam’. ‘Would you like me to get you some?’, ‘No. Because I see I have somehow eaten all my toast’.
This book is told from the perspective of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and I found it quiet interesting with it being told this way. She is completely unreliable as a narrator, who is telling the story, her account of it, and it kept me guessing throughout. I couldn’t trust her as a character, I didn’t know what to believe and it made it interesting to read as I kept changing my mind on how I thought the storyline and plot was going to go.
This writing style was amazing as it did keep me intrigued with this story and did a good job building certain characters. You do fall into certain problems when writing from one perspective, especially a strong and unreliable one, and that is you see the character through their eyes and that’s how you take them. If they hate them, you’re going to hate them.
I did have questions left after I’d finished reading this book which is why I can’t give it five stars, but I liked the ending. I really liked the ending. Maybe every legend has a hint of truth behind it, but also how it spirals out of control.
Thankfully, thanks to Amazon letting me know what other people who have read a book are also reading, I chanced upon her at last and have since been lapping her up.
I won't spoil the book by copying out sentences or telling you bits. I hate when people pull out pieces and dissect them, introducing you to parts of the puzzle out of sequence, disempowering them for when you later come across them in place. There's enough of that already out there, if you are so inclined.
All I will say is that this is a good book, a great book, especially once you get past the first few chapters, which are kind of slow. I think knowing and caring about the characters is important for enjoying the novel, and in the beginning there isn't enough knowing for there to be caring and therefore there isn't enough caring for there to be enjoying. It slowly grows, your appreciation of the characters, your involvement in the plot, your deep connection to them and it. And when it hits, it's strong and deep and searing. This book made me many things over its course: happy, sad, amused, frustrated, dreamy, murderous, envious, nostalgic. And at its close I was regretful also.
If you appreciate good prose and beautiful imagery, love detailed description and deep character studies, I'm sure you will love it as much as me. I wish I could unread it and read it over again, and again...
I didn't find this quite as intriguing or chilling as I expected, too much was transparent from the start, but there are some startling images here, especially the scenes where the villagers bring food like placatory offerings at a shrine.
A short but immensely controlled piece of writing.
If you like your pleasures rare,this book is for you!
The only think i really disliked about the book was a lack of detail or information on certain things. Mostly regarding the village and why all the locals hated the Blackwoods so, so much. It was alluded that the Blackwoods had never really been popular; shutting their property off with a fence, thinking themselves better than the others in the village. But so much of the villagers’ anger focuses on the poisoning, an incident that was so self-contained i can’t understand why it alone would be enough to incite such hostility. Of course, we see all this via the unreliable narration of Merricat, so the reader is either misinformed, or Merricat herself doesn’t have all the information.
The ending was… enough to satisfy me. It felt a little like it trailed out and went on just a smidgen too long, for my own tastes, but the situation was apt. Despite all that happened, Merricat and Constance are simply more entrenched in their solitude and safety than they were at the start of the book. The last couple of chapters also gave me more appreciation for the minor characters, who genuinely did care, despite their inability to help.
Merricat survived the crime that is at the heart of the story - the wholesale poisoning by arsenic of most of her family when she was just 12. Now she lives with her sister Constance, who everyone assumes is guilty of the crime, even though she was tried and acquitted. The third member of the household is Uncle Julian, another survivor, although he has been left disabled by the experience. While Merricat, now 18, runs childlike and free in the grounds of the house with her constant companion, Jonas the cat, Constance is the homemaker, always cooking and baking, and caring for both Merricat and their uncle. Uncle Julian is writing a memoir of the day of the poisoning, a task made difficult by his failing and confused memory. It is through Uncle Julian's ramblings and Merricat's hints and suggestions that the reader gradually gets a picture of what happened.
But regardless of truth or proof, Constance has been tried and found guilty by the villagers. The family were never liked - they fenced themselves in and the villagers out - so now the villagers have an ideal excuse to vent their bitterness. On Merricat's twice weekly trip to the village for supplies, she is shunned by the adults and jeered at by the children. But once home, back in the enchanted space inside the fence, the little family is safe and happy. Until one day, Merricat's protections fail, and Cousin Charles comes to visit, bringing with him all the sanity and coarseness of the real world. And when Charles' arrival awakens new desires in Constance, Merricat's childlike superstitions turn towards something much darker...
Merricat is a unique narrator, though much in the Gothic tradition of the lunatic telling her tale. But though we are forced to recognise the insanity that lives within her imaginings, there is a charm and air of childish innocence about her that leads us to sympathise with her totally; the most disturbing thing about the story is that, though we know someone in the house has committed this awful crime, we can't condemn - we are firmly on the side of Merricat and her family and against the rest of the world. As the story progresses, the sunshine gradually fades into something very disquieting and truly spine-tingling.
A wonderfully written book that distorts and plays with the reader's expectations, this reads to me like the 'true' story behind the creation of the familiar 'witch' myths. We see the story from the inside, but if we look closely we also see how Merricat and Constance would have been viewed by the villagers - two strange women, one suspected of a horrific crime, the other, accompanied everywhere by her knowing cat, using talismans and magical words to ward off strangers. As I left Merricat's world and returned shivering to my own, it seemed when I looked backwards that perhaps the house was made of gingerbread after all...
It's a story about a quirky teenage girl who likes to play in the garden and talk to her cat. She dislikes anyone and everyone and wishes she was on the moon. There's no plot. Your imagination won't get stretched too far either as the whole story pretty much takes place in the kitchen.
Can somebody tell me why this is considered a masterpiece? I had to force myself to finish it whilst praying for something to happen.
Why two stars then? I thought some of the characters were well written, especially Uncle Julian.
I was pointed in its direction by fellow reviewer, FictionFan, who thought it would touch my `like a well written something on the edge of ODD' muscle.
Shirley Jackson was a gifted horror and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night writer whose first writing was published in 1949. By 1965 she was dead. It's no surprise to find she had a slightly troubled personal history, probably involving issues around food.
Her books (and this is by all accounts typical) are set in small town America, and though the protagonists may be distinctly disturbing and oddball - uncomfortable misfits, it is also clear that Jackson has sympathies with her dysfunctional main characters, and sees small-town, insular, intolerant mentality as being as - if not more - reprehensible, than the fragile, disturbed, central character.
In We Have Always Lives in the Castle, the central characters are two sisters Constance, and the narrator, Mary Catherine - Merricat. Indeed, Merricat is particularly cat like, and her closest companion IS her cat Jonas. And at times, she is a particularly merry cat, in her playfulness, her whimsicality, her fey, wild child appreciation of nature. She reminded me of an indelibly darker, deeply disturbed cousin to Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm's Elfine - but Jackson's novel has no Flora, creature of higher reason, to shed light into the darkness.
Constance, and Merricat live in dark and disturbing isolation on the edge of their community, shunned and feared by the village folk, and shunning and fearing of them, in return
Perhaps the best way of giving a flavour of Jackson's deliciously oddball, creepy imagination, and her economy of writing, is the opening paragraph:
"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, but 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 phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."
Our unreliable narrator Merricat with her strange rituals is clearly unhinged, quite seriously so - but Jackson's skill and charm is to make this fragile, possibly deranged and even dangerous wild child also someone whom we sympathise with - and even, curiously, find immensely charming
The plot of the book involves the uncovering of a murder-fest which took place some years before, which Constance was accused and acquitted of, a weird uncle, a visiting cousin, some rubbernecking neighbours - and much more, which i will not say, for fear of spoilers. Even though it is the journey of the book which is its real delight, not any uncoverings. Savour every single step!
I must admit that the third sentence of the book, the werewolf one, hooked me immediately by the dark wit and unexpected imagination of the writer, so succinctly expressed, and turning on two phrases `with any luck at all' and `'I have had to be content with what I had'
I have now ordered Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Horror) Well, the nights are drawing in, and horror this stylish can't be resisted!