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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

by Shirley Jackson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8011512,081 (4.06)482
  1. 121
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (teelgee)
  2. 50
    The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (taz_)
    taz_: I suspect that Iain Banks' "Wasp Factory" character Frank Cauldhame was inspired by Shirley Jackson's Merricat, as these two darkly memorable teenagers share a great many quirks - the totems and protections to secure their respective "fortresses", the obsessive superstitions that govern their daily lives and routines, their isolation and cloistered pathology, their eccentric families and dark secrets. Be warned, though, that "The Wasp Factory" is a far more explicit and grisly tale than the eerily genteel "Castle" and certainly won't appeal to all fans of the latter.… (more)
  3. 20
    Who was Changed and Who was Dead by Barbara Comyns (laytonwoman3rd)
  4. 20
    The Sister by Poppy Adams (sparemethecensor)
    sparemethecensor: Two sisters with a mysterious relationship and dark history together, unreliable narrators, dark, old, rural houses with mysteries of their own... Though the books take different plotlines, they share so many similar elements that people who enjoyed the setting and storytelling of one will likely enjoy the other.… (more)
  5. 31
    The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (lahochstetler)
  6. 32
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (citygirl)
    citygirl: Castle is much darker and Flavia is more adorable than creepy (Merricat is quite creepy), but if you're interested in unusual young protagonists, with a very particular world view, try these.
  7. 21
    The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (sturlington)
  8. 32
    The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (kraaivrouw)
  9. 10
    Heartstones by Ruth Rendell (isabelx)
  10. 00
    The Other by Thomas Tryon (sturlington)
    sturlington: Somewhat similar, although the Jackson novel is far superior.
  11. 11
    Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (sturlington)
  12. 00
    The Keep by Jennifer Egan (sturlington)
  13. 01
    The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen (Nialle)
    Nialle: Young, emotionally complex, imaginative narrators in isolated situations - have something going on that the reader only glimpses before the big reveal
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» See also 482 mentions

English (149)  Italian (2)  All languages (151)
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
Strangeness, and the surreal?, portrayed in the persons of Constance and Merricat Blackwood, determinedly sequestered in the very old Blackwood estate. The author is coy with us, letting us know a sinister act has been committed, but exactly how? By whom? why? And, is this all within a bizarre, but nonetheless earthly dimension, or something other? Simply but sharply written, an atmospheric tale that could invite one long, dark sitting. ( )
  JamesMScott | Nov 24, 2014 |
Finally, I read my first Shirley Jackson! One of my favourite BookTubers talks about her a fair bit, so I thought it was about time I gave her a go. My local bookshops failed epically, but the library fared better and I picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle to start me off. This book is more about atmosphere and character than plot, concentrating on an insular household comprising eighteen year-old oddball Merricat, her older sister Constance, her cat Jonas, and their eccentric uncle. The rest of their family was killed in bizarre circumstances, the townspeople hate, ridicule and fear them in equal measure - all they have is their house, each other and their unchanging domestic routine. Until a money-grabbing cousin unexpectedly arrives and brings their world tumbling down around them, that is... The description and prose in this novella is beautiful, and the inside of Merricat's strange mind is quite fascinating. It's fairly sedately paced, with the exception of one genuinely heartbreaking scene of chaos and misery that made me feel sick to the stomach, but it flows well and I never felt like it was dragging at all. A hard one to describe all round, really... My best advice is just to read it for yourself! I really enjoyed it - and I'll definitely be reading more Shirley Jackson soon. ( )
  elliepotten | Oct 24, 2014 |
A fun story: creepy, unreliable narrator, uncertain characters.
Merricat Blackwood narrates the story of her family in a small, gossipy town. There's lots of mental issues throughout: Merricat seems young for her age (almost as if she hadn't aged since the family tragedy 6 years before), ritualistic, OCD; Constance can't leave the gardens of the house, she's completely confined to the estate around the house, even the many acres of private family land are off-limits to her.
A fun read, with truly gothic tones. This has the makings of a good creepy Halloween movie. ( )
  PetraBC | Oct 23, 2014 |
We Have Always Lived in the Castle tells the story of the Blackwood family sisters. Eighteen year old Merricat, likes fantasy and fairy tales, believes in magic words and magic totems placed around their property, only has love for her older sister and her cat. Constance is beautiful and graceful, plays the harp, reads cookbooks for fun and loves preparing the family meals. Their Uncle Julian lives with them in the otherwise empty large family home, but suffers physically and mentally and needs constant taking care of. He is obsessed with recording all the details of the terrible day six years ago that left him in his current state and killed the rest of the Blackwood family. Their only other resident is Merricat’s pet, Jonas, who follows her like a familiar.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is beautifully written, atmospheric and creepy yet elegant. Merricat is a wonderfully bizarre narrater. Right from the opening paragraph, where she laments that she might have been born a werewolf, her imaginings run from the fantastic and colourful - flying to the moon on a pegasus, where she and her sister will dress in pearls and feathers - to the very dark. In the book’s opening pages, during her twice a week trip to the village for groceries, Merricat imagines the villagers curled up on the floor at her feet, rotting and dying in agony.

We quickly see that the villagers hate her and view the the Blackwoods with open scorn and mocking. The Blackwoods were one of the wealthiest families in town, until an incident six years ago when most of the family was killed from arsenic poisoning in their dinner. Merricat’s older sister, Constance, who grows their vegetables and cooks all their meals, was accused and tried for their murders. Although she was acquitted, the villagers continue to view her as a murderess, and everyone down to the smallest child knows the rhyme:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.


The novel unfolds from there, gracefully and smoothly. I read almost the entire thing in one sitting, completely absorbed by Jackson’s writing. This one was recommended to me by my brother. He’s reading The Haunting of Hill House now, I’ll definitely check it out when he’s done. ( )
  catfantastic | Oct 4, 2014 |
This book is amazing. One of the best psychological suspense stories ever. Read it! ( )
  imaginationzombie | Sep 28, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
Of the precocious children and adolescents of mid-twentieth-century American fiction ... none is more memorable than eighteen-year-old "Merricat" of Shirley Jackson's masterpiece of Gothic suspense We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).
 

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shirley Jacksonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franzén, TorkelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Pascal Covici
First words
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-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
Quotations
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The quiet, isolated life of the Blackwoods--eighteen-year-old Merricat; her older sister, Constance, who may have poisoned their parents six years ago; and their wheelchair-bound uncle--is disrupted by the arrival of a cousin pursuing the family fortune.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143039970, Paperback)

Visitors call seldom at Blackwood House. Taking tea at the scene of a multiple poisoning, with a suspected murderess as one's host, is a perilous business. For a start, the talk tends to turn to arsenic. "It happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night," explains Uncle Julian, continually rehearsing the details of the fatal family meal. "My sister made these this morning," says Merricat, politely proffering a plate of rum cakes, fresh from the poisoner's kitchen. 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. "What place would be better for us than this?" she asks, of the neat, secluded realm she shares with her uncle and with her beloved older sister, Constance. "Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people." Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, ritually revisiting them. She has made "a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us" 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 "time and the orderly pattern of our old days" in favor of an ever-narrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated, darkly, 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 normality itself. "Poor strangers," says Merricat contentedly at last, studying trespassers from the darkness behind the barricaded Blackwood windows. "They have so much to be afraid of." --Sarah Waters

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:42 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate.

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