Book review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The remainder of the Blackwood family is odd, no doubt about it. Insular, hermit-like, sisters Constance and Mary Katherine and their elderly uncle Julian have withdrawn from society, with good reason, after the shocking death by poisoning of the rest of the family six years ago. Constance was acquitted of the murder, but the townsfolk still blame her, and she no longer leaves the house except to go into her garden. Mary Catherine (or Merricat, as she’s known within the family) runs the errands, reluctantly, but out of necessity and the desire to protect her sister. Whispers and stares follow Merricat when she comes into the village twice a week for necessities; children taunt her with a cruel nursery rhyme; certain bullying adults make a point of taunting her more directly. Merricat has her own way of dealing with this unpleasantness: she imagines virtually everyone she encounters as dead and takes pleasure in this internal vision of bodies strewn about the village or across her doorstep. Mary spends a lot of time alone and in her head, creating magical charms and engaging in secret rituals to protect herself and her sister from the world.

One day, despite all Mary’s efforts, their cousin Charles appears at their doorstep. He is a disruption and a threat to their future peace, and Mary resolves to make him go away. Her attempts to rid them and their house of Charles’ presence end in catastrophe and set the stage for the disquieting and eerie finale.

I imagines volume can be (and have been) written about this short book’s themes, subtext and symbolism; Mary Catherine’s and Constance’s respective pathologies; and the archetypes represented by each character, major and minor. I have no intention of delving into that morass of scholarship and analysis. All I want to say is this: Shirley Jackson has never failed to astonish me with the quiet terror and creeping unease she imbues in every page, every paragraph, of everything she wrote. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is no different.

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This book was read as part of the Spring into Horror Read-A-Thon. Click the badge to see the list of other folks who participated and go read some of their blog entries too.
Spring Horror 2014

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6 thoughts on “Book review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  1. For most people, “The Lottery” was the first Shirley Jackson story they read, and possibly, the only. For me, however, it was “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts.” Still one of my favorites.

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    • I just thumbed through the only volume of Jackson’s short stories that I own, and that story isn’t in it. “The Lottery” is, of course, because the book is titled The Lottery, and Other Stories. Making myself a mental note to hunt down the peanut story because that particular one was also mentioned in the introduction to Castle.

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  2. I really need to read this one. I have read The Haunting of Hill House and sadly, it’s not a favorite. I much prefer Hell House by Richard Matheson. But I do appreciate Jackson’s style, as you mentioned. Perhaps I will like this one better.

    Thanks for joining me for the read-a-thon! I hope you enjoyed it and will join us this summer for the High Summer Read-a-Thon.

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