We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Length: 5.5 hours
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Original Publication Date: 1962
Genre(s): Classics, Gothic, Fiction
“The people of the village have always hated us.”
The Blackwoods have lived in the house upon the hill for generations. There used to be more Blackwoods, but now there’s only three: Mary Katherine (who goes by Merricat), her sister Constance, and their Uncle Julian. The other Blackwoods were killed years ago by poison, a crime Constance was accused of and then acquitted. But the people in the village still blame Constance, and though they’ve never liked the Blackwoods, now their hatred is tenfold. And then one day, distant cousin Charles Blackwood shows up with intentions of helping around the house. Constance may be fooled by his charming exterior, but Merricat knows Charles has sinister intentions. She must get rid of him, any way she can.
This is the first non-contemporary I’ve decided to listen to on audiobook. Contemporaries are easy breezy, which is why listening to them doesn’t bother me. But I like to actually read the classics, because I think there’s more substance to those texts, and more I want to take in and analyze. But I had nothing else to listen to, and this was such a short book, that I caved. And I enjoyed listening to this story so much that I’m in desperate need of purchasing a physical copy for a re-read.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told in first-person POV from Merricat’s perspective. Merricat is perhaps the most eccentric narrator I’ve ever experienced. Just to give you an example, here is the opening paragraph of the book:
“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I’m 18 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 have. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”
Isn’t she so endearing???? I actually really love her, despite how psychopathic she is. What makes her especially interesting, though, is her voice. She mentions right off the bat that she’s eighteen years old, but her voice is very young and immature. Her perspective reads as if from a twelve-year-old, instead—the age she was when her family was killed. It’s unclear whether these events stunted her emotional growth, or if she’d always been somewhat limited. To be honest, most things are unclear in this novel, which is what makes it so great.
Most readers can assume early on who poisoned the Blackwood family, so the book isn’t necessarily a mystery but more a psychological exploration of the Blackwoods, as well as a commentary on small towns. Whereas Merricat is eccentric, morbid, and strange, Constance is timid, agoraphobic, and mild mannered. The two are contrasts, but their love for each other is boundless, and I guess the story is also about their relationship, as well. There are so many things to explore in this novel, and I hope to read more into them when buying a copy for myself.
This being my first venture into Jackson’s literature, I’m very eager to read more, especially The Haunting of Hill House. I am blown away at Jackson’s writing and want to know everything about her. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is such a strange novel, but it’s an interesting one worth exploring, especially if you love creepy vibes, eccentric characters, and unreliable narrators. I had no qualms about the novel, nor can I find anything I disliked. We’re still 3 months away from Halloween, but this is a creepy little story you’ll want to read in the middle of summer, anyway.
–“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.”