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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Genre: Horror

Originally Published: 1962
Edition Courtney Read Published: Jun 1, 2010
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
ISBN: 9781441734259
Source: Scribd

The Story

We Have Always Lived in the CastleFrom the Scribd book page:

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. Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, and ritualistically revisiting them. She has created a protective web to guard 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 old habits in favor of an ever-narrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated 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 normalcy itself.

The Response

I’ve had this on my TBR for ever. I don’t even know why I added it in the first place. But, oh my! This wasn’t at all what I expected and yet it was positively wonderful.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was the last book Shirley Jackson wrote before her death; she wrote many other novels that you might be more familiar with – particularly The Haunting of Hill House, which was adapted into the movie The Haunting. I haven’t read her others, but think I will be after this. If they’re anything like this one, I know I’ll love them.

The book is written from the perspective of Merricat, an 18-year-old orphan who lives on the family estate with her older sister, their elderly infirm uncle, and their cat. Constance, the older sister, hasn’t left the property in over 6 years – since she had been accused (and acquitted) of the murder of her parents. I will admit that I had a hard time really grasping what was going on with the main character until the second last chapter – and then it was an “Ah-ha!” moment. You see, our narrator spoke and acted like she was quite a bit younger than her age, and while I had a suspicion that the murder thing was not what we were told, I didn’t realize exactly what was up with the main character. In fact, because the summary of the book made it sound like there would be some sort of magic in this book (frustrating when marketing copy doesn’t do the book justice!), I was more looking out for that than for anything else and probably missed clues that I should’ve seen.

So yeah, unknown to myself ahead of time, there is no magic, but it wouldn’t have worked at all with the story. Instead, Merricat’s rituals to keep strangers away are more symptoms of her own mental health, and I’m left wondering how different people would have reacted to people with —’s mental state than they do today. There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illnesses today, but surely it’s better accepted and understood than it was in the 1960’s when this was written.

The book definitely kept my interest and kept me guessing at what was going to happen next, which I absolutely loved. Plus, it had a total creepy atmosphere, which I always love! There’s something about the unease and resentment of the surrounding villagers that makes really brought out the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, and really gave an interesting perspective to the story. When this was shown at the beginning of the book, it led me to feel sorry for the main characters, while not showing the full picture as to why they felt that way.

I loved Jackson’s narration style. It flowed so well and really added to the atmosphere of the book, while keeping me guessing as to what was going to happen! It’s also led me to wonder what on earth is going to happen to our characters after the end of the book… how will they live the rest of their lives? I absolutely wish there was more of this!

The Bottom Line

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read this book! It’s something that I would’ve loved way back when I was a teen, and something I still thoroughly enjoyed. Definitely highly recommended to fans of the gothic!

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 6:59 am October 5, 2015.
Category: Gothic
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