We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Flashback post!

Bibliographic Information

Audiobook $19.60
Paperback $6.43
Hardback $120.00
Kindle $12.99
Associated ISBNs 9780140071078
9780143039976 — Paperback
9780143129547 — Paperback
9780606039505 — DEMCO Turtleback
9780141191454 — Paperback
9781101530658
9780891906230 — Hardcover
9780899685328 — Hardcover
9781448719518 — Glued Binding
9781435262225 — Glued Binding
9780822212263 — Paperback
9780445083219 — Paperback

Readers Annotation

A family tragedy has isolated two girls from the village that hates them.

Rating (VOYA)

3P, 5Q

This is an older novel, and it is a Gothic novel. While Gothic is more approachable than Horror, this still isn’t something some people are going to want to read.

This is a beautifully written novel full of feels.

Summary

Here we go. This isn’t really a spoiler, considering it’s been out since the ’60s, so I’m not trying to hide the summary today.

So the set-up is thus: Merricat, her sister Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in Blackwood manor. The rest of their family was tragically killed via arsenic poisoning.

The booke opens with Merricat needing to go to the village to get library books, groceries and stop to get a coffee (because routines are good). The whole time she’s running her errands she is thinking about how much the villagers hate her (and her family) and how much she would like to kill them all. Merricat stops for her coffee in the diner and gets cornered by one of the villagers who starts talking about how horrible the Blackwoods were, and how no one likes them, and how Constance murdered them all. When Merricat is finally able to escape she dashes home.

Constance never leaves the manor. Uncle Julian is half-infirmed due to the poisoning. Merricat keeps promising to be nicer to him. Constance gets two visitors. The second visitor asks about the poisoning. Uncle Julian starts telling her all about that fateful day. How everyone was sitting for breakfast except for Merricat (who was sent to her room with no food). The arsenic was in the sugar. Constance had washed the bowl because she had said there was a spider in it. The police could never convict her of the crime. The women visitors leave.

Merricat runs wild through the manor’s grounds, checking on her tailsmans which ward away the villagers and the bad things, in Merricat’s mind.

Soon, their cousin Charles comes to the manor. He insinuates himself into their lives. He starts to monopolise Constance’s time, starts wearing the girls’ father’s things, starts talking about money and more. He starts saying that Uncle Julian should be in a home. And he starts to try and punich Merricat for her behavior. He suggests she go to a bording school.

Somewhere between Charles arriving and the end of the book Constance brings up Merricat murdering the rest of the family.

Merricat gets so mad that she goes up to their father’s (now Charles’) room and knocks his cigarette (still smoking) in the trash, setting a fire. Soon the whole second floor of the manor is on fire. Charles keeps trying to get the safe out of the house (only concerned with the money). Constance and Merricat get out. The girls run from the manor. The villagers have come and have started wishing the manor would burn down. Eventually they convince themselves to put out the fire. They start pulling things from the manor and destroying things inside. The chase the girls and find Uncle Julian dead. They then realise they should leave.

The girls never leave the manor again. They don’t fix the manor. People start leaving them appology food on their doorsteps and time passes. The girls are happy in their home.

Evaluation

Ok people, here it is: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I was on a old school horror kick when I got into Shirley Jackson, and here we are. I listened to The Haunting of Hill House while on vacation, and wanted to try another of the Gothic Queen’s books, and so enter We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I don’t think I ever really read Gothic fiction before Shirley Jackson. I don’t know what I expected from Gothic fiction, but it wasn’t this. I think I had a more horror mind-set then Gothic, and they’re not necessarily the same thing. Gothic is this disquieting mood… it can be scary but its more about that feeling of quiet horror, of something not quiet right. This whole book is disquieting. Its not necessarily about the twists and turns (in fact they are pretty predictable in some ways) but it is about the characters and their feelings and the feeling that the story itself provokes.

Our characters are very fleshy. Merricat is a disquieting sociopathic-ish girl, who wants all the villagers to die and loves her sister. Her sister Cathy is a recluse (not by choice) and longs to be part of society but has embraced this secluded life they lead now. Uncle Julian is addled from arsenic poisoning, and Cousin Charles has come to prey upon their naivety and seclusion to get to their money. Some villagers have individual personalities, but for the most part they’re all lumped into the “they hate the Blackwoods” camp.

The mood of the book is visceral. You can feel Merricat’s dislike of the villagers and you can feel the villager’s hate for the Blackwoods.

The Blackwood home is a character in of itself. Its old, majestic and depressing. Home to the girls, memories and terrible tragedy.

Really, Jackson’s prose is on point here. This is some well crafted fiction. Its dripping with creepy vibes. This is a more accessible read than The Haunting… was, at least for me. I didn’t get lost in this story (though maybe that was the point with The Haunting…). I was absorbed in every word and every moment. I knew what was going on, I knew where it was going, but I was still riveted to see what was going to happen.

This isn’t a story of twists and turns. This is a story of feeling. And those feelings are exquisite.

Genre

Gothic

Horror

Readalikes

Tresspass by Rose Tremain

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

(Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier)

Significance

Shirley Jackson’s last novel, and her only non-paranormal novel. (Arguably her best novel)

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Discuss the villagers and their feelings about the Blackwoods.

Talk about Cousin Charles.

Discuss how the girls/villagers reacted to the fire.

Author’s website

Shirley Jackson

Awards

none (Won Time’s best novels of 1962)

YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Unreliable Narrators: Don’t Believe a Word (2016)

Reviews

PW

Kirkus (if working)

Why I Chose It

I had listened to The Haunting of Hill House and found it intriguing (and entirely unexpected) and wanted to try this one (toted as Jackson’s other great work).

Other Information

Coming to a theater near you! (2017 release date?)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s