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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (original 1962; edition 2009)

by Shirley Jackson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8921601,998 (4.06)498
Member:miss_read
Title:We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Authors:Shirley Jackson
Info:Penguin Classics (2009), Mass Market Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:fiction, agoraphobia, arsenic, poison, sisters, death, murder, madness, insanity, USA, 1960s, gothic, arson, food, gardening, vandalism, fire, eccentricity, cat, moon, magic, witchcraft, spice cookies, blackberries, horror, macabre, house, mental illness, small town America, cousin, psychopath, psychological, recluse, secrets, gingerbread, uncle, sugar, mushrooms, dresden, curtains, wheelchair, mob, OCD, talismans, safeguards, marbles, silver dollars, preserves, pickles, jam, cafe, village, lettuce

Work details

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)

  1. 111
    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. 10
    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. 21
    The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (lahochstetler)
  6. 00
    The Other by Thomas Tryon (sturlington)
    sturlington: Somewhat similar, although the Jackson novel is far superior.
  7. 00
    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
  8. 22
    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.
  9. 22
    The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (kraaivrouw)
  10. 00
    Heartstones by Ruth Rendell (isabelx)
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» See also 498 mentions

English (156)  Italian (2)  All languages (158)
Showing 1-5 of 156 (next | show all)
The audio version is very well done! ( )
  michellebarton | Mar 26, 2015 |
The novel, narrated by 18-year-old Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, tells the story of the Blackwood family who live in a large house on large grounds, in isolation from the nearby village.

This is the quintessential ghost story, told from the inside out — a perfect blend of creepiness and tenderness, of believability and otherworldliness. The story is told beautifully, drawing inexorably toward a climax of destruction. A stunning work, I liked this even better than Jackson’s other classic of the genre, The Haunting of Hill House.

Read because I like the author (2004). ( )
  sturlington | Mar 6, 2015 |
A perfect little psychological horror novel. If only I had first read this when I was 12 or 13! The reader never knows for certain what is true. Did Uncle Julian really survive the poisonings? On the first page it states explicitly that "everyone else in our family is dead." Did Merricat really survive the orphanage? Uncle Julian says she didn't. Is Constance as crazy as Merricat or even crazier? What if Constance is really telling this whole story from (dead) Merricat's viewpoint and continuing to play the "little mother" out of guilt? What if therefore there is no Cousin Charles; he is only a projection of Constance's thwarted sexuality? The schoolboys' taunting chant becomes a chilling refrain in the fire scene, and perhaps it is the closest thing to the truth.
"'Merricat,'" said Constance, "'would you like a cup of tea?'" "'Merricat,'" said Constance, "'would you like to go to sleep?'"
IS Merricat the poisoner? Or were the police (and is the legend) correct? ( )
  JMlibrarian | Mar 3, 2015 |
A perfect little psychological horror novel. If only I had first read this when I was 12 or 13! The reader never knows for certain what is true. Did Uncle Julian really survive the poisonings? On the first page it states explicitly that "everyone else in our family is dead." Did Merricat really survive the orphanage? Uncle Julian says she didn't. Is Constance as crazy as Merricat or even crazier? What if Constance is really telling this whole story from (dead) Merricat's viewpoint and continuing to play the "little mother" out of guilt? What if therefore there is no Cousin Charles; he is only a projection of Constance's thwarted sexuality? The schoolboys' taunting chant becomes a chilling refrain in the fire scene, and perhaps it is the closest thing to the truth.
"'Merricat,'" said Constance, "'would you like a cup of tea?'" "'Merricat,'" said Constance, "'would you like to go to sleep?'"
IS Merricat the poisoner? Or were the police (and is the legend) correct? ( )
  JMlibrarian | Feb 27, 2015 |
Six years ago, the Blackwood family was wiped out when someone slipped arsenic into their sugar. Only three people survived the tragedy: Uncle Julian, a shadow of his former self after the poison worked through his system; pretty Constance, who declined the sugar, and Merricat, who was sent to her room without supper. The town has long suspected Constance killed her family, because she washed out the bowl after the poisoning, destroying the evidence, and was the only person at the table who didn’t use the tainted sugar. Adding this to the town’s dislike of the haughty Blackwood family, and the three family members are shunned. Only Merricat travels into town to pick up food supplies and library books, while the others remain hidden in their great mansion. But the quiet routine the family has settled into is disrupted when a forgotten cousin comes a-calling, determined to bring the Blackwoods back to their former glory.

The story is narrated by Merricat, a strange young woman obsessed with superstitions and protective magic. Although she’s eighteen, it’s very easy to forget this, as she speaks and acts more like a child half her age. Sometimes I think she has a touch of OCD, because she’s constantly rationalizing, “If I do this, than this can’t happen. If I do this, than this WILL happen.” But maybe that’s paranoia (I’m not so good with mental disorders) instead. Certainly, Merricat is paranoid, and it quickly becomes clear that she’s unreliable. Do the townspeople hate her as much as she claims, or is it all in her head? The reader is left to decide. As the story goes on, Merricat reveals herself to be increasingly troubled and prone to violent outbursts when she doesn’t get her way.

Constance, by contrast, begins the book as the odd one. She’s the quiet, reclusive sister who never goes out, patiently cleaning and cooking and caring for her aged uncle. Yet as the book progresses, and Merricat’s disturbing characteristics emerge, Constance shifts towards normal. By the end of the book, she seems a weary woman trying to protect the world from sociopathic child, not hiding away because she’s scared. In the rare moments that she interacts with the outside world, a glimmer of the delightful young woman she may have become had the family not been beset with tragedy shines, but it’s quickly swallowed up into the dark gloom of the Castle.

Yes, I really did feel sorry for Constance. She’s constantly working to tend the garden or clean the house while her sister Merricat – at eighteen, more than old enough to do proper chores - plays and frolics outdoors. When Charles flirts with her, is it any wonder that she responds? It’s the only time she’s been given any attention for the woman she is, not the murderess of local notoriety or the nursemaid or the playmate.

It’s a chilling psychological tale, told by a young mind twisted by circumstances unknown. Merricat never really talks about her childhood, but it’s clear something terrible must have happened for her to be so warped. Or maybe nothing did – maybe she’s just a broken person who spent too much time reading about poisons and running wild without discipline. Everything about the book is unsettling and creepy. No wonder it’s become such a classic horror novel. ( )
  makaiju | Feb 22, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 156 (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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shirley Jacksonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Franzén, TorkelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Pascal Covici
First words
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.
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!
You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine. Is it still in use? you are wondering; has it been cleaned? you may very well ask; was it thoroughly washed?
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.
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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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Editions: 0141191457, 0141194995

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