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

by Shirley Jackson

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,7851482,101 (4.06)476
  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 476 mentions

English (146)  Italian (2)  All languages (148)
Showing 1-5 of 146 (next | show all)
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 |
One of the best stories I've ever read !!! ( )
  nu-bibliophile | Sep 15, 2014 |
Shirley Jackson is the author of The Lottery, a fantastic short story with a horrific plot twist that most everyone has read. True to form, Jackson writes this book with similar style.

It's dark, but in very different way from what most people expect.
Merricat and Constance and Uncle Julian live in a grand house a-ways from the village. They live fairly happily, even if there are some strange undercurrents floating around. When Merricat goes into the village, we start feeling the tension and the feeling that something is not-quite-right, even though there is nothing outwardly wrong.

Jackson is a master at curating this type of atmosphere. This casual daily interactions with a niggling sensation of something wrong. And that is the beauty of the whole book. We spend the whole time trying to figure out what is wrong, what is it, what is actually going on?

Merricat is dark and adorable. I love following her around. It is through her perspective that we view this world. And it is a childish logic that colors the lens. "On the moon..." she might say, and tell us solemnly of the wonders there and what will happen when they live there. There is a child-logic and child-magic in the type of protection she places around the house.

The scenes with Charles are fantastic. His character is established perfectly within such easy phrases. His manipulation, his impact on Constance, his priorities. I marvel at the ease at which Jackson can write characters true to form.

I think my favorite part of the book was the ending. The resolution to this story was perfect. It didn't cut us off at the climax; it gave true resolution. And it was done so well because Merricat and Constance are both completely in character and logical, but when you take a half step back... the scene crawls with that underlying horror.

3.5 stars rounded down. I was a hair's breadth from rounding up, but honestly it just doesn't quite hit that threshold for me to round up. Ugh, so close though. I am mostly just in awe of her writing. ( )
1 vote NineLarks | Sep 15, 2014 |
Fear, persecution, sociopathy, ostracization, buried treasure, sympathetic magic, poison mushrooms, unreliable narrators, deceptively simple prose...what's not to love here?! An all-time classic. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Aug 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 146 (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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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Editions: 0141191457, 0141194995

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