We Have Always Lived In The Castle: "She Told The Police Those People Deserved To Die."

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-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
This is a Vicious Circle book club pick but I've wanted to give We Have Always Lived In The Castleits full due here too since I think it's such a brilliant little book.

Little it is. The edition pictured clocks in at a cool 146 pages. There are only a handful of characters and many of those mentioned are already dead at the book's opening. The setting is limited to the crumbling Blackwood mansion and the outlying village. The book has the feel of the movie Pleasantville - that reality is limited to a few square miles and then drops off the face of the earth.

Mary (called Merricat) and her older sister Constance live with their ailing uncle Julian. The remainder of their family, including their mother, father and brother, have perished through poisoning. Connie stood trial but was not convicted. The three remaining family members live out their days confined to the house and surrounding property, hiding from the accusatory eyes of their neighbors.

The atmosphere is textbook creepy. Merricat is a strange blend of naiveté (her love for her sister, her sheltered life, her childish habits of collecting and burying objects) and cold calculation (she imagines the villagers dead when she walks there once a week to buy groceries, she makes quick work of an enterprising relation who looks to woo Connie and grasp ahold of their fortune) and these opposing traits drive the novel with chilling force. As a narrator Merricat may be wholly unreliable (she tries her best to keep us from the truth behind the poisoning) but as a character she ranks with the best.

For lovers of gothic literature I'm not sure it gets much better than this. Due to its brevity, engaging plot and straightforward (yet deftly written) prose, this novel would also serve as a great gateway book for anyone looking to start (or restart) reading the classics.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle/ Shirley Jackson / PB, 1962

8 comments:

alexis said...

I love Shirley Jackson, and I don't think I've read this book. Now it's going on the list.

Amy said...

I've seen some reviews of this book that have me really wanting to give it a try. It sounds like a lot of fun, especially the gothic feel. I keep imagining I Capture the Castle when I think of it though and I need to get it through my head that they are nothing alike!

B.Kienapple said...

Alexis - I haven't read any other Shirley yet and I'm gunning to - I just got the new Library of America compendium that came out.
Amy - I'm pretty sure it's nothing like I Capture the Castle. :) I read it during the summer (obvs) but I think it would make a great book to curl up around the fire on a winter's night and dive into. Shivers!

alexis said...

Shirley Jackson's short stories are AMAZING.

Ceri said...

Wow, I love the way you described this book. It's definitely going on my wishlist now so thanks for the review. :D

Teddy Rose said...

This book has been on my TBR for quite awhile now. I just recently read and reviewed a Shirley Jackson story, a short story called 'Charles.' From what I have read of Jackson's style, 'Charles' is quite a departure from her books.

B.Kienapple said...

Alexis-I've heard that The Lottery is her most famous story, which puts me to shame since I hadn't heard of it until recently.
Ceri-hope you enjoy! I don't like scary stuff per say (hence why I've never been able to get into Stephen King) but I do like stories more on the side of psychological thrillers.
Teddy-I'm going to look for your review now! I thought I'd heard about all the major classics in university so it's nice to keep discovering these old gems.

Heather said...

I've not heard of this book, though I will be adding it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

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