Aug 19

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This is a brilliant book, suitable for anyone who loves macabre, twisted stories that almost (but not quite) veer into the supernatural. If it weren’t for a slightly predictable twist and a few other minor flaws it would have been superb.

The story involves two sisters and their infirm uncle, last survivors of a family tragedy hinted and whispered and sometimes chanted (in an annoying unmetered rhyme) by the townspeople. Merricat, the protagonist, says that the townspeople have always hated them. Feared too, she doesn’t say, but it’s not certain who fears whom more, the townspeople or the Blackwood family.

Merricat Blackwood is a delightfully twisted narrator with a magical thinking that pervades her everyday life. If she doesn’t step on the crack, those kids won’t speak to her. If she nails a book to a tree, it will protect the house. She says she’s eighteen, but she reads more like eight. Uncle Julian fades in and out of coherence, mumbling on like a demented old man. Constance, who tirelessly and thanklessly toils to grow, can, cook, and serve food to her other family members, never but once speaks her mind, so she’s basically like a Stepford sister.

All of the Blackwoods are slaves to routines and more than a little agorophobic. Merricat goes to the village, but she hates it, and only goes on certain days. Constance never leaves the house except to go to the garden. Julian is bound in a wheelchair and can’t go far. So when their cousin Charles visits, it disrupts their routine and sets the surviving Blackwoods–who were never too stable to begin with–into a spiral of emotional distress.

The only real flaw, besides the un-metered chant, was that I wanted a little bit more. I wanted more of a reveal, more hidden details, more family back story. More of a payoff, I guess. The altered relationship with the Blackwoods and the town at the end felt somewhat symbolic rather than natural. I mean, it’s not like anyone would be able to test if that would really happen, given that the events were (hopefully) unique, but it just felt forced. There’s one major event about 75% of the way through the novel, and the last quarter of it felt like the story was really over and Jackson wasn’t sure how to end it.

Still, I think it’s a great novel, nicely creepy, and perfect for pre-teen girls with gothic proclivities.

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