We Have Always Lived in the Castle

WHALitCTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson

Summary: Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with the overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

In her final, greatest novel, Shirley Jackson draws us into a dark, unsettling world of family rivalries, suspense and exquisite black comedy.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I adore Shirley Jackson’s work. There is no simpler way of putting it. She writes such slow, careful, creeping horror stories. Not the kind to make you jump or wince, but the type of horror that crawls inside you and makes you cold. It’s atmospheric and psychological and entirely within the realms of possibility. And i love it.

I was hooked from the first chapter here, as our narrator Merricat walks through the local village, buying groceries, exchanging library books and pausing for coffee. It sounds so normal, but it is anything but. What struck me most was how she turned the unpleasant trip into a game–if she could make it to her next goal without being whispered about, stared at, or called out to, she would win. Head down, moving as swiftly as possible, she would pass through the village while imagining all of its inhabitants dead, consumed by rot. And Merricat would picture herself walking over their bodies, on a satisfying and peaceful trip through the village. Yes, i liked Merricat right from the start.

It was also during that first chapter that [SPOILER>>>] i decided she had been the one to poison her family. [/spoiler] I don’t think it’s meant to be a huge twist when that fact is revealed later in the book–it is more a surprise that they are openly talking about it, as comes across as an unspoken acknowledgement for most of the story. Merricat very much lives in her own world, using her own made up “magic” to keep herself and the family safe. But when her magic starts to fail and Cousin Charles shows up, Merricat doesn’t admit defeat.

It may be the fact that Merricat is our narrator, and an unreliable one at that, but i really did dislike Charles and the villagers. But Merricat is the protagonist, and as the reader, i was behind her 100%. I wanted Charles gone and the villagers punished. In fact, i wanted it so much that this book kept me up until midnight last night. I had to keep reading, i had to get to Charles’ comeuppance. It is actually so, so rare for a book keeps me up at night, and i really relished it.

The only think i really disliked about the book was a lack of detail or information on certain things. Mostly regarding the village and why all the locals hated the Blackwoods so, so much. It was alluded that the Blackwoods had never really been popular; shutting their property off with a fence, thinking themselves better than the others in the village. But so much of the villagers’ anger focuses on the poisoning, an incident that was so self-contained i can’t understand why it alone would be enough to incite such hostility. Of course, we see all this via the unreliable narration of Merricat, so the reader is either misinformed, or Merricat herself doesn’t have all the information.

The ending was… enough to satisfy me. It felt a little like it trailed out and went on just a smidgen too long, for my own tastes, but the situation was apt. Despite all that happened, Merricat and Constance are simply more entrenched in their solitude and safety than they were at the start of the book. The last couple of chapters also gave me more appreciation for the minor characters, who genuinely did care, despite their inability to help.

It’s a book with no firm conclusion, no cut and dry happy ending, and leaves me with more questions than answers. But then, that’s exactly the kind of conclusion i love.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Set in a small town.

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About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

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