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?)

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Room

room

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $15.39
Paperback $7.19, $10.17
Hardback $18.41
Kindle $7.99
Associated ISBNs 9780316098335
9781554688326
9780316268356
9780316391344
9781443449618
9781443449625
9780316098328 — Paperback
9780316223232 — Paperback
9780316120579 — Paperback
9780330519014
9781448759729 — Glued Binding
9780316174626
9782253167303 — Paperback
9780330519922
9780606265058 — Glued Binding

9781554688319

Rating (VOYA)

5Q, 4P

This is an extremely well written book.

Because of the movie, and the buzz around it, popularity for this book may be on the rebound.

Readers Annotation

Jack has only known Room.

Summary

Jack is turning five. He lives with his mother in Room. Room has no windows, just a skylight. Room’s door only opens when the code is put in. Jack loves Room.

Jack loves Room. Jack and Mom have a routine for every day. Every night “Old Nick” comes and Jack hides in the closet and counts the squeeks.

One day Mom decides that they need to leave after Jack asks about Outside and doesn’t understand. They come up with a plan. Jack will pretend to be sick and “Old Nick” will take him to the hospital. This plan fails, so plan B is to pretend that Jack died. Mom rolls Jack up in a rug and tells him exactly what to do. “Old Nick” takes Jack and puts him in the back of his truck. Jack worms out of the rug and jumps from the truck at a stop. “Old Nick” sees him and chases him. Jack runs to a man with a dog and a baby, who eventually calls the cops.

Mom is rescued and they go to the police station.

After the police, they are transfered to a mental health institution. Jack wonders when they can go back to Room. There’s too much space in Outside.

Jack meets his grandmother, step-pa, and his uncle. When Jack goes out with his uncle he steals a book, but doesn’t understand what he’s done. When he comes back Mom isn’t breathing. He goes to stay with his grandmother and step-pa while she recovers.

When Mom is finally better, they move into a assisted living aparment.

In the end they revisit Room and Jack realizes how small his world was.

Evaluation

This was a hard book to listen to. Its not a happy book in the least and it was disturbing at times. It was so good, but I don’t want to say I enjoyed it (though I guess I did, its hard to say you enjoyed something twisted). It really provoked some dark and sad emotions in me. Its a dark subject matter, but telling it from the child’s perspective helped soften the blow a little bit. It would have been more disturbing from the mother’s perspective. Jack just doesn’t understand what he’s missing and his mother is struggling so hard just to live. It was a really real portrait.

The characters were very real. You could feel the frustration of Jack, and his mother, and later his extended family. They were all trying so hard to make it all work. The best character was the Step-pa, because he was the only one who seemed to understand what Jack was going through in the Outside.

I think people who like Literary fiction would like this one. Its dark and twisted and shows a side of life that people wouldn’t think about. Literary seems to be all about think pieces and dark subject matter after all.

Genre

Literary fiction, Psychological suspense

Readalikes

His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Significance

The significance is that the story is told from the POV of a child born into captivity, having known nothing else. Its a unique perspective, especially since he struggles with the views of people who knew/know the Outside.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Discuss which treatment of Jack was better: Ma, Grandma or Step-pa.

How realistic do you think the story was?

What would you have done in Ma’s situation?

Author’s website

Emma Donoghue

Awards

ALA Notable Books – Fiction: 2011

Alex Award: 2011

CBA Libris Awards (Canadian Booksellers Association): Fiction Book of the Year

Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Best Book: Regional Award: Caribbean & Canada

Forest of Reading Awards: Evergreen Award

Goodreads Choice Awards: 2010

Indies’ Choice Book Awards: Adult Fiction

Kentucky Bluegrass Award: Grades 9-12

Library Journal Top Ten

New York Times Notable Books – Fiction and Poetry: 2010

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize

Reviews

Kirkus

PW

Why I Chose It

This one had a lot of buzz because the movie came out last year. I had tried Emma Donoghue before and hadn’t gotten into it, but this one was supposed to be really good. I picked it because everyone was talking about it.

Other Information

Devil in Silver

Bibliographic Information 

Paperback: $9.87, 432 pages, Spiegel & Grau (2013)

Hardcover: $9, 432 pages, Spiegel & Grau (2012)

Kindle: $11.99, 434 pages, Spiegel & Grau (2012)

Audiobook: $29.99, Dreamscape Media (2012)

  • ISBN-10: 1400069866
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069866
  • ISBN-10: 0812982258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812982251
  • ISBN-10: 1611208564
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611208566

Rating (VOYA)

4Q, 4P

Readers Annotation

Pepper has been confined in a mental institution and must now fight the devil.

Summary

Pepper has been dragged to a mental institution after assaulting three police officers. They lock him up for a 72 hour watch. He gets questioned by a disinterested panel of doctors and nurses and then shuffled off to a room. He meets Dory, a patient who was the first person on the ward, in the hallway and she explains the situation in the ward. She tells Pepper what each hallway is, and where not to go.

In the morning Pepper is required to take meds which dull his senses. Pepper keeps questioning staff about why he is there and keeps trying to figure out a way out. One night he sees the Devil drop from the ceiling and it assaults him. He sees a chance when Loochie (a teenage inmate) is escorting her family out of the mental ward. Pepper makes a break for it when the door opens, knocking over Loochie’s family (and a nurse), but he does not escape because Loochie tackles him.

Pepper spends a few days doped up in his room and when he finally comes to he discovers that he has “admitted” himself to the ward. Pepper joins the “book club” and teams up with Dory, Loochie and Coffee (his roommate). He learns about the Devil and the group decide to read “Jaws.” The group tries to decide on a plan to take out the Devil and stop taking their meds, but each member of the crew has their own ideas. Dory wants to talk to the Devil, Coffee wants to call the president about the situation in the institution, Pepper wants to escape and Loochie wants to kill the Devil. The group stashes the night nurses in a room. Coffee makes his call and gets upset that it doesn’t work, Dory and Pepper are fighting and Loochie lets out the Devil. The Devil attacks Loochie, Pepper attacks the Devil and Dory yells at all of them. Coffee goes to stab the Devil and Dory attacks him just as the SWAT team breaks into the institution. They shoot Coffee (a lot).

After a long period of restraints and over medication, Pepper finally regains his faculties. He decides to keep his head down in an effort to get out. He avoids Loochie and Dory and starts hanging out with the night crew. There he falls for Sue (Xiu).

One night Loochie and Dory get in a fight which allows Sue to sneak into Pepper’s room. After, they see the Devil try to take the man across the hall and stop it.

Sue is taken the next day to start the deportation process.

Dory approaches Pepper the morning Sue is taken and gives him a note saying she was wrong and that he should help the Devil. When she goes out for the smoke break she climbs the fence and steps off, killing herself.

While the police are cleaning up Dory, the inmates are taken out of the hospital to a pizza place. Loochie and Pepper reconnect, and Pepper tells her to remember the path from the bus stop to the mental institution, implying they would escape.

The inmates plan an escape through the hidden doors in every room, and one night they do. As they proceed to follow the map that Dory had drawn, they turn on one another when confronted with what to do with the devil. One of the inmates swallows the key to the Devil’s room. Loochie and Pepper sneak off. Pepper helps Loochie escape and then goes back to the group. Some of the group had killed the inmate who swallowed the key as the others watched in horror. They opened the Devil’s room and he came for them. Several inmates get hurt and some die and Pepper realizes the Devil is just a man and protects him.

In the aftermath, the Devil goes to the hospital, and Pepper starts to greet new residents just like Dory did.

Evaluation

I liked this book. It kept me guessing. At one point in time I was sure that the Devil was going to be just in the minds of the inmates. It also made me appalled about mental hospitals.

This book was well written and plotted. While the narrative could be deceptive and the reader couldn’t really guess where it was going, it had a clear path and didn’t deviate.

The characters were mostly three dimensional. They were three dimensional if they needed to be. Characters that were part of Pepper’s story were fleshed out, but others like Scotch Tape were not as three dimensional because they didn’t need to be. We knew what Pepper was going through (and were horrified by it), we  eventually understood Dory and felt for poor Sue. The setting was truly horrifying and was a terrible character in itself. The action was thrilling and terrifying.

I found myself on the edge of my seat the whole ride. I found myself gasping several times and shed a tear for Sue and Pepper at the end. It wasn’t an emotional ride the whole way, but there were times when I really felt the story.

I think this is a great book for its audience (Adult horror readers). It has some really great psychological horror that digs deep in your psyche. It has a compelling monster and horrendous setting and enough action to keep the reader going.

I might replace this one with Shutter Island. They both have a psychological horror, but of different types.

Genre

Horror, Psychological Suspence

Readalikes

End of Watch by Stephen King

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

The Dark Room by Minette Walters

Significance

A one of a kind premise that seems supernatural that turns out not to be. A unique look at the patients of a mental institution whose horrors are not only monsters, but the system itself.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What do you think it meant that the patients saw the Devil as a Devil but the staff did not?

What would you have done in Josephine’s situation after the first revolt?

Do you think that the support for the mentally ill is satisfactory today?

Discuss experiences with people with mental disabilities.

Author’s website

Victor LaValle

Awards

New York Times Notable Book (2012), Top 10 Book of 2012

Reviews

Kirkus

Amazon

Publishers Weekly

Why I Chose It

Book Talk book, but also what an intriguing idea! The summary really drew me in and I wanted to know if it was a literal or figurative devil.

Other Information