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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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“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
About the Author
Jonathan Lethem is the author of numerous acclaimed novels, including Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude.
- ASIN : 0143039970
- Publisher : Penguin Classics; Deluxe ed. edition (October 31, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 146 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780143039976
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143039976
- Lexile measure : 920L
- Item Weight : 6.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.69 x 0.5 x 8.45 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s last novel, and it is a masterwork of madness, deception, and envy. In words that are simple and well chosen, the author allows us to follow Mary Katherine Blackwood—also known as Merricat as she goes about her day in the house, the woods, and sometimes, the village. We come to learn early on that the other family members are long dead—poisoned. And we also discover the village’s hatred of the Blackwood family which, towards the end of the book, comes to a head in a way reminiscent of “The Lottery.”
Things are orderly and cloistered in the Blackwood house until Cousin Charles appears. It’s immediately apparent that he is hoping to cash in on the supposed hidden wealth of the sisters. And, being the imperious lout that he is, he underestimates the strength and protectiveness of Merricat as he bumbles his way through vague overtures toward Constance and threatening promises of things changing for the better.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a story that will chill you with characters who are sympathetic in their trapped existence. It is a brilliant novel that makes me wish Jackson were still alive to write more. After all, there are so many other castles yet to explore.
Top reviews from other countries
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.