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

by Shirley Jackson

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3,6142161,458 (4.06)579
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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. 141
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (teelgee)
  2. 70
    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
    A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (sturlington)
    sturlington: Sisters named Merry. Tremblay was clearly influenced strongly by Jackson.
  4. 10
    Who was Changed and Who was Dead by Barbara Comyns (laytonwoman3rd)
  5. 10
    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
  6. 21
    The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (lahochstetler)
  7. 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.
  8. 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)
  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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English (211)  Italian (3)  French (1)  All (215)
Showing 1-5 of 211 (next | show all)
Mary Katherine (Merricat) and her sister Constance live in an old house with their Uncle Julian, isolated from the nearby village where they are ostracized. They are the sole survivors of a family tragedy which occurred in the recent past.

The book was atmospheric enough--Merricat's strangeness and wildness (she is the narrator, and is seemingly unaware that her weirdness and the family isolation is anything but normal), Constance's obsession with cooking, gardening and domestic-duties, Uncle Julian's forgetfulness as he goes over family history again and again, the crude and threatening villagers are very well conveyed. Into this milieu an outsider, "Cousin" Carl, intrudes with tragic consequences.

This was a good read, well-written but the reveal of the "big secret" and the climactic events with the villagers were easily foreseen. The book may be best read as a psychological study of mob violence, rather than as a horror story. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 19, 2017 |
Weaponized boredom. ( )
  Carnophile | Apr 2, 2017 |
Absolutely an interesting, if also disturbing, book.

It's easy to sympathize with Merricat and Constance, even despite the kind of character that Merricat is. In some ways, it's because of the kind of character that she is that makes it easy to sympathize with her, even when she's thinking of things she shouldn't be or when becoming aware of terrible things she's done even before the start of the book. She's quite childlike despite being an adult, and while I think that a lot of that is due to the many ways in which she's isolated, I don't think that's entirely to blame. She clearly had problems before the book even took place.

When I started this book, I had to remind myself several times to be careful while listening to the narration (which is quite good), precisely because Merricat is such a compelling and sympathetic character. With characters like that, it's easy to find yourself nodding along with everything they do or say or think, to justify it your head, even when it shouldn't be justifiable. At least, it is for me. So, I had to remind myself that things might not be entirely as they seem because Merricat is not just a compelling and sympathetic character, she is also a deeply disturbed character and therefore may very easily be an unreliable narrator, perhaps even to an extreme.

And there was definitely a good bit of that in there. Merricat tends to rewrite things in her head, or just to push away certain unpleasant things by doing her best not to think of them, or engages in magical thinking by performing rituals to keep or drive things or people she considers bad away. Not to mention a tendency to dehumanize people whom she dislikes. And I mean that in a literal sense, spoiler>such as the way she called Charles a ghost and then later a demon ghost. The way she imagined the townspeople as corpses she could walk on and walk over in the beginning of the book.

The thing that makes it seem not quite so bad when she does this, however, is the fact that often when she does, in fact nearly every time, the people she has these thoughts about are being horrible to her or to her family. The townspeople bullying her whenever she goes into town to get groceries and to visit the library, for example. They do so very harshly, to the point of shock, and it is my interpretation that they actually did these things and said those things and she didn't need rewrite any bit of that. So it's easy to read about that and think, "well, I can't really blame her for thinking these things, those people are being terrible to her, I might think similar things if in a similar situation." Especially since it's made quite clear that this is nothing the slightest bit new to her. This is how she's been treated by the town, and how they have openly viewed her family, at least for the last six years if not longer.

Constance often enables her and I don't think there's ever been a single attempt to get her any real help, before or after their parents died. Then again, I can also see why that might be the case. Given the time period, that probably makes sense. Not to mention that Constance herself needs help which she hasn't sought.

The character of Charles Blackwood, their cousin, is a bit strange. I was determined at first to not think badly of him since Merricat hated him from go. He was a stranger to her and with him came change, and that alone would have been enough for Merricat to hate his presence. Not to mention that at first he seemed to be a nice enough guy. But, it didn't take long at all for that veneer of niceness to tarnish and fade and for us to realize that he is not at all what he first seemed and his explanations for why he is there are lies, or half truths at best. It's easy at that point to begin hating him, too. Especially when he begins to make fun of and say horrible things about Uncle Julian because he's old and not well and nearing the end of his life, having memory problems and difficulty eating on his own without making a mess. He infantilizes Julian, and the way in which he does it seems malicious, although at times he tries to suck up to him. He cares more about money and the value of the house and the things within it than he does about anyone who actually lives there, and he finds in Constance a person he can easily manipulate. When it becomes apparent that he will not be able to win over Merricat, however, he begins to bully her and threaten her, sometimes vaguely and sometimes outright. He tells her cat, Jonas, that he wonders if she knows how he gets even with people who don't like him. He asks her what she'd do if Constance were to turn her out and if nobody loved her anymore. He makes it plain that he doesn't like her and doesn't respect her, finds her to be a nuisance and a problem, and plans to get rid of her at the first opportunity.

Another thing about Charles that I have to say grudgingly, is that he's not entirely wrong in the things he says to Constance, or the things she's clearly picked up from talking with him. She has enabled Merricat and has neglected her mental health, they don't live in a way conducive to healthy minds and they neglect their social health as well. Julian probably could benefit either from being in a facility where people are trained to care for people in his situation, or by having nurses come into the home. It probably isn't that safe to keep all of their money in the house, considering how much money they have, rather than have it in a bank. Especially since it took him five seconds to realize they're doing that, so it probably hasn't been lost on the townspeople who dislike them and are, in some ways, jealous of them to begin with to have figured it out either.

But, the way in which he has gotten her to agree with him on these things is very obviously manipulative for his own gain rather than through any true concern for Constance or her family. The way he just walks in and takes over and decides he owns everything and has a right to everything is also enough to make the reader dislike him. He has a lot of gall, that one.

I found the part with the house fire to be especially interesting. I absolutely think that Merricat set that fire, or put Charles's pipe in a spot where a fire would likely start it, and I think she said a few things in the narration herself that made that clear, although I don't think she actually admitted to it even just in her own thoughts. But, I don't think that she intended to hurt anyone (unlike when she put the rat poison in the sugar bowl six years ago) or to destroy half the house in doing so, or for Uncle Julian to die. I think she just wanted to drive Charles out so things would go back to the way they were before he showed up. I do like that Charles ended up blaming himself for it, even after a lot of time passed, and never truly realized that he didn't start that fire by being careless with his pipe (although he shouldn't have left it lit in his room when he wasn't in there where it could catch Merricat's eye). It also brought out his true nature. While he did have concern for the people in the house, telling Constance and Merricat to run, for example, his true concern was for the value of the house, the things in the house, and especially the money in the safe. Even when he came back all that time later, the comments he made to his friend, for the most part, were about how he could profit from the girls once more and how much of a shame it is that they're locked in there alone with the money (where he can't get it). I also feel like the pleading in his tone, the regret, and the potential tears were all crocodile at best, hoping that Constance would let him in and he could get access through her to all that money again.

But, also I noticed when it was announced that Julian was dead, Charles was right there at the front wanting to know if "she" had killed him.

I also thought that the way the townspeople reacted, telling the firemen to just let it burn. The way the fire chief took his hat off once the fire was out to signify he was no longer acting as a city official but rather as a civilian now and threw the first rock into the house that signaled to the rest of the gathered townspeople to set upon the house, and a bit later to set upon the girls although thankfully without physically harming them unlike the poor house, in such a crazed fashion.

When Helen showed up and tried to tell Constance and Merricat that the townspeople had meant no harm the other day I nearly fell off my bed because /what/?? They absolutely had caused harm and had meant harm, at least in that moment, and that statement was the most ridiculous thing I think I'd heard in the entire book, even including Merricat's magical thinking. But, I did like that at the very least the townspeople tried to find ways to apologize for their behavior that night. Bringing them food, admitting to what they'd done and apologizing for it, even if they'd never do it in the daytime and seemed concerned they might be caught and have to deal with social stigma for it. Despite the fact that it happened frequently enough that it seemed like nearly everyone was doing it. Although, near the end, when they talked about the woman leaving food with a note in the basket apologizing in such a way for the way her son had acted, I was unsure if she was actually embarrassed for her son's behavior that day or if she was scared that there might be some kind of retribution in some way for it. And I have to wonder now if they apologized out of genuinely feeling bad and repenting for what they'd done, or if they were just afraid of the girls somehow and felt like this food they were leaving was basically an offering as if to appease evil spirits.

By the end, there are some things I'm confused about and haven't really settled on any interpretation for yet. Something that Uncle Julian said to Charles when talking about Merricat, for example, and the way the book ended with how the girls were acting. I don't think I can't truly consider them ghosts, unless they both haunt the entire village as well as their home and the grounds of Blackwood farm. But, there are definitely some bits that make me wonder. Some things didn't get explained and perhaps that's a good thing. It leaves me room and time to think. About the characters, about the events, and about past events that were spoken of which happened before the setting of the book. And about what might happen after the ending of it, as well.

Definitely a great book, one that I would absolutely recommend. It's odd, but it isn't long and it's absolutely worth it. Shirley Jackson definitely didn't disappointment with this one.
1 vote madam_razz | Feb 12, 2017 |
Eighteen year old Mary Katherine Blackwood ('Merricat') lives with her older sister, Constance, and her doddering wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian, in a house that has become their castle: impenetrable to strangers - in fact to anyone. Everyone else in her family is dead.
Merricat is part feral child, part shrewd adult, existing within a set of boundaries, both arranged for her and self-imposed. As Constance has never returned to the village since she was acquitted of the arsenic-laced murders of her family, Merricat braves the taunts of the villagers, all of who she wishes dead.
But with the arrival of their cousin Charles, the balance of their lives begins to tilt.
A lot happens in this short "gothic suspense" as Joyce Carol Oates has described it. I eagerly await the recently published biography of Shirley Jackson and discovering the roots of her fervid imagination. ( )
1 vote PPLS | Jan 12, 2017 |
The first time I read this was during a Shirley Jackson binge I went on in 2004/2005. I liked the book then, but reading it again more than a decade later, I appreciate it even more.

A couple of months ago I attended a piano performance by pianist who played so skillfully that he made very complex pieces seem not only effortless but a joy to play. Reading this novel, I felt like I did while watching this pianist play. Jackson weaves the story of Merricat and Constance and their interactions with the world with subtlety and grace. I love the way she's able to turn something simple and innocuous or even at first quaint and delightful into something dark and bottomless. It's like going over the first hill on a roller coaster I didn't know I was on. Except that I wouldn't like it if it really were a roller coaster and not just a simile. ( )
1 vote ImperfectCJ | Dec 25, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 211 (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 (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shirley Jacksonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bliss, HarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunne, BernadetteNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franzén, TorkelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oates, Joyce CarolAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Serra, Roseanne J.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.
Our house was a castle, turreted and open to the sky.
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(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.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:32 -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 7 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141191457, 0141194995

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