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Old 07-05-2012, 08:19 PM   #1
aecardenas
Kafkaesque
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We Have Always Lived In The Castle By Shirley Jackson - A Review

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
By
Shirley Jackson

A Review

First, the title. The title is what originally caught my attention because it was so odd and weird. The second thing that caught my attention was the cover (see attachment), which at the time was this really creepy image of a girl with long black hair hiding behind a broken wooden fence. Those two things got me in the front door of this book, and Shirley Jackson's deceptively simple lyrical prose made me stay.

WHALITC is not a mystery suspense novel. Nor is it a gothic ghost story or a horror novel. And yet it contains all of these elements (as well as a dash of Robinson Crusoe, as well), told in an sly, secretive voice. WHALITC is, in fact, a State of Mind. Specifically, the state of mind of one Miss Mary Katherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat; the diabolically imaginative, shy, perversely funny, clever eighteen year old Woman Child, who tells the story of the tragic Blackwood family and their house just outside of a tiny village.

Six years prior, most of the family was murdered by arsenic poisoning during their tea time. The eldest daughter, Constance, was tried and acquitted of the murder, during which time Merricat was placed in an orphanage, and their Uncle Julian, the only survivor of the poisonous meal because he didn't eat a lot, was crippled and confined to a wheelchair. Now the three Blackwoods live alone at the great house, but are completely cut off from the society of other people, who still regard them with suspicion and hate, believing that Constance has gotten away with murder.

The Blackwoods are not only trapped inside of their great big house, but they are also trapped inside of their tiny, quietly desperate lives. Constance is trying to forget about the family's tragic past, while Uncle Julian is obsessed with trying to remember and record its every detail. Merricat, on the other hand, simply does not want to grow up, and prefers to spend her day talking to her cat, Jonas, and playing in her weird little fantasy world in which she has strange magical powers over her home and family.

Merricat routinely has to venture out into town to buy groceries and check out books from the library, each time, though, she is met with ugly stares, hateful comments, and a general feeling that everybody is out to get her. The villagers are both appalled with the Blackwoods as well as secretively jealous of their beautiful house and wealth. And yet there is an unspoken truce between the Blackwoods and the villagers, one that seems to be growing more tenuous by the day.

One day, their lives are altered forever by the arrival of Charles, a distant cousin who's family at first shunned the tragic Blackwoods. But for some reason, Charles wants to reconnect with his wealthier cousins and he brings to them a feeling of reconciliation and hope to their troubled lives. Charles not only looks like their dead father, but also seems to want to take his place and assume the role of father-figure, taking Constance for the role of wife and mother to the others. Constance sees Charles as a way for her to truly put the past behind her, while Uncle Julian sees him as an obstruction to his erratic and desperate recovery of his past.

Merricat, on the other hand, regards Charles as a stranger, an enemy, a hostile demonic presence in her carefully constructed fairytale world. And she intends to stop him.

This is a very strange and wonderful book. It goes places you would not expect. Merricat's perceptions of things are morbidly cute. One has to wonder if Wednesday Addams was not in large part based upon the goth cherub character of Merricat.

The language of the book is deceptively simple, but incredibly evocative, bordering on the lyrical. The structure of the book, though, seems almost "stage like"…and as I was reading it I could almost imagine it as a stage play. I wonder if Jackson conceived of it as such, because it would work remarkably well on stage. The dialogue and structure really lends itself to what could be a very beautiful stage play if one were inclined towards such an adaptation.

All in all, it's a weird, wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
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Old 07-08-2012, 09:31 AM   #2
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I second the recommendation. I remember reading this a few years ago and found it quite creepy. Maybe it would be time for a reread, but I have so much stuff waiting to be read that I sometimes feel guilty when I reread.
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Old 07-08-2012, 01:10 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marrella View Post
I second the recommendation. I remember reading this a few years ago and found it quite creepy. Maybe it would be time for a reread, but I have so much stuff waiting to be read that I sometimes feel guilty when I reread.
I never feel guilty about re-reading. If a book is good enough to Re-Read, then that automatically justifies itself for me. So re-read!
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Old 07-09-2012, 01:59 PM   #4
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I love this one! If you are a fan of Shirley Jackson I also recommend you check out the short stories of Daphne DuMaurier!

eP
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Old 07-11-2012, 03:28 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by aecardenas View Post
I never feel guilty about re-reading. If a book is good enough to Re-Read, then that automatically justifies itself for me. So re-read!
Of course you are right. But I am currently rereading both the Harry Potter series and George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, so I am reluctant to start another reread. All the more if I look at all the other books I have already started.

I have always loved rereading. Why else should you buy books instead of getting them from the library?
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Old 07-11-2012, 03:31 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by elemenoP View Post
I love this one! If you are a fan of Shirley Jackson I also recommend you check out the short stories of Daphne DuMaurier!

eP
I wasn't aware that she has also written short fiction. Currently, I have Jamaica Inn on my TBR. It's a dead tree book, but I bought it at the Jamaica Inn when I visited it last month, I just couldn't resist.
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Old 07-11-2012, 04:10 PM   #7
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Thank you for posting the review. It sounds like an interesting book.
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Old 07-11-2012, 06:59 PM   #8
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Thank you for this review. I've been a fan of Shirley Jackson for a long time, and this late novel is in my opinion one of her best. We lost her far too young.

In 2010 Abebooks posted an appreciative essay:
http://www.abebooks.com/books/lotter...01cta&abersp=1

I even blogged about her in 2009:
http://writersrest.com/2009/10/26/sh...haunted-house/
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