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This book is a masterpiece It is short and spare and written in crystal clear prose, yet so evocative that it is richer in nuance than most good novels twice its size It is so good I could kick myself for not reading it years ago, yet so mythic I am convinced I have known it always, like a tragic folktale or a chilling childhood dream And yet, for all its grimness, it is essentially a comedy darkly, transcendently, funny.The Blackwood sisters 28 year old Constance and 18 year old Mary Katharine live in a big old house on the outskirts of town They are fitfully persecuted by the locals, who are convinced one of them is a murderer their whole family with the exception of scatterbrained Uncle Julian was poisoned with arsenic six years ago Now the three survivors along with their black cat Jonas are living together in deliberate tranquility, when long lost cousin Charles arrives on their doorstep, barely concealing his interest in the lovely Constance and the Blackwood family estate.The narrative voice of Merrycat nickname for Mary Katherine is perhaps the most distinctive thing about the novel Deceptively childlike, obsessed with omens, magic words, and lucky days, Merrycat is nevertheless a clear and sharp eyed observer of the day to day events of her world Her naive shrewdness speaks to us like Huckleberry Finn s, her quirkiness charms us like Holden Caulfield s, yet she possesses a distance, a reserve, that is all her own.Those of you who read novels like autobiographies will find tantalizing tidbits here The local village resembles Jackson s North Bennington, Vermont, a place Jackson always felt treated her family as outsiders college eggheads, Democrats, atheists, Jews and provided her the inspiration for her notorious early success, The Lottery The two sisters were inspired by Jackson s two daughters, the placid and cautious Constance by Joanne and the superstitious and daring Merrycat by Sarah But of course Jackson drew on herself for inspiration too, particularly from her fascination with witchcraft and sympathetic magic and her persistent, crippling agoraphobia And Cousin Charles resembles her husband, in his critical comments about the housekeeping and his continual concerns about money Although husband Stanley was a literary critic, his wife Shirley was the literary cash cow of family, and he once calculated precisely how much money was lost whenever his wife wasted her valuable time composing a letter to a friend Perhaps what I like best about the book besides the dark humor, and the voice of Merrycat of course is its sweet and sad conclusion After the destruction has passed and gone a climax which reveals the full impact of the novel s title we witness a family rebuild an old life out of love, and even glimpse a little human compassion for a change It is the twilight happiness of Shakespeare s Winter s Tale and The Tempest, the kind of happiness Lear and Cordelia might have enjoyed, if they had lived.Here is the novel s famous first paragraph, which gives you a good idea of Merrycat s distinctive voice 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. My favorite Shirley Jackson novel A masterpiece of unreliable narration and of the eerie relationship between childishness and horror.I m now re reading this for a December group read, so I thought I d update this review as I go.A lot has already been written about the masterful opening paragraph of this book, so I ll focus instead on the opening chapter It basically involves the narrator, Merricat, walking into town to do some shopping Sounds boring It s anything but that Shirley Jackson uses this mundane task to show the intense hostility between the Blackwood family and the town, as well as to show Merricat s rather unusual character She s childish and playful I played a game when I did the shopping I thought about the children s games where the board is marked into little spaces and each player moves according to a throw of the dice The library was my start and the black rock was my goal And as she navigates this terrain full of landmines in the form of other people who taunt her and laugh at her, she can t help flashing her own hostility They saw me at once, and I thought of them rotting away and curling in pain and crying out loud I wanted them doubled up and crying on the ground in front of me Until at last she reaches the sanctuary of her home.It s a sanctuary that s as much magical as physical I had to put down the shopping bag to open the lock on the gate it was a simple padlock and any child could have broken it, but on the gate was a sign saying PRIVATE NO TRESPASSING and no one could go past that And then she sees the most important person in her life, her sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian the last surviving members of her family But almost immediately, that sanctuary is violated Helen Clarke and Mrs Wright come to tea, and we see Merricat fretting over what this will do to Constance, whether she s strong enough for visitors There s a jealousy in Merricat that reminds me of the jealousy Eleanor has regarding Theodora in The Haunting of Hill House a subterranean feeling that comes out in flashes of anger, like when Merricat smashes the milk pitcher in the kitchen.The scene with Helen Clarke and Mrs Wright is also notable for its comedy how everyone keeps dancing around the subject of the family deaths, except that Mrs Wright can t help herself, she really wants to know, and Uncle Julian is than happy to oblige by giving a guided tour of the dining room Shirley Jackson has quite a comic touch here, though it s all undergirded by Merricat s ill feelings toward these visitors and the recognition of the horrifying tragedy that befell her family Shirley Jackson expertly ratchets up the tension by having Merricat sense something impending A change was coming, and nobody knew it but me What s wonderful about this is that it raises the tension level even as you wonder whether something really is coming or whether she s just living in her own imagination It also allows for some domestic scene setting and banter with Uncle Julian without losing the narrative drive I love when Merricat chooses three special protective words, thinking that so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come She then writes the first word in jam on her toast and eats it thinking that makes her one third safe The change, of course, is cousin Charles, who arrives without much explanation and basically moves in It s clear right away that he s a gold digger, and you can sense Merricat s rising anger and panic as he threatens her entire world by threatening to marry Constance She employs her childish form of magic to try to ward him off or get him to leave, but nothing works, sending her spiraling into extremes It s clear that Merricat thinks of him as the enemy when she watches him walk into town and talk easily to all the townsfolk who ve been bullying her He s one of them, in her mind, and at that point the battle lines harden One of the subtle mysteries of this book concerns the relationship between Merricat and Uncle Julian My GR friend Nancy first pointed out, in a group discussion, that they don t really interact, except that Merricat keeps saying to herself that she ought to be nicer to him I thought this was quite a profound insight, so I read the passages again closely and noticed the same oddity Uncle Julian says at one point that Merricat is dead, and then when Uncle Julian dies, Merricat hardly seems upset at all In fact, she seems rather relieved, claiming that now she and Constance can start over again Clearly there s something odd going on between them My guess is that Merricat feels jealous of Uncle Julian, that she really wants Constance all to herself Spoiler alert to the end Perhaps this is also a clue to the motivation behind the central crime that it was really driven by Merricat s jealous desire to have her sister all to herself Here again I see shades of Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House And finally, at the end, Merricat gets exactly what she wants Constance all to herself And Constance herself gives herself to Merricat s superior power, gives up any hope of having her own life She cries as Charles leaves for the last time and says Merricat, I am so happy And Merricat herself echoes this sentiment in the book s final chilling line Oh Constance, she says, we are so happy. What you think you know, you don tSeveral years ago, someone poisoned the sugar bowl at the last Blackwood family dinner, resulting in the death of nearly every family member Only the two sisters Merricat and Constance and their ailing uncle Julian remain on the secluded estate but they are not the same as they once were Since that fateful day, each remaining member has become slightly unhinged much to the gossiping villagers horror and delight.Merricat has a wistful, gentle insanity Constance has petrifying agoraphobia and Uncle Julian is on a loop constantly obsessing over discovering what happened during the last Blackwood dinner.Everyone in the village wonders, constantly, which one of them could have done itThen a mysterious cousin comes into town with shrouded motives and a pushy personality Merricat decides she must get rid of him before he discovers who killed the Blackwoods but how will she accomplish this with suspicious villagers crowding in at all sides and his own stubbornness to contend with Bizarre and haunting throughout the writing is beautiful and the story is riveting.I was absolutely swept into this story I absolutely loved the characters Merricat was both chilling and sweet Constance was almost scarily rigid and yet loving towards her sister Uncle Julian swung from senile to insane I couldn t tear my eyes away.I loved the way the author managed the characters All of their personalities shifted subtly during the story each one becoming and disturbed, which of course sucked me deeper into this story I could not find out who was the killer and the I read, the less I wanted to know The ending came upon me like a horror creeping in the night This is definitely one I d recommendAudiobook CommentsRead by Bernadette Dunne she was absolutely perfect Her haunting voice breathed life into this novelBlog Instagram Twitter You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine Is it still in use You are wondering has it been cleaned You may very well ask was it thoroughly washed This book is looney tune I m not even sure about some things that happened One of my GR friends needs to message me so we can discuss some things on this book Of course no one will read this so it s a mute point So Constance, Merricat, and Uncle Julian live in the home together with all of their land enclosed The rest of the family were killed Merricat is the only one that leaves to get groceries and books in town where she is picked on by everyone I loved her macabre thoughts of all the said people being dead She had a lot of different macabre thoughts through out the book The book was just so strange and I enjoyed that, even though it made me feel crazier than I am They had some jerk uncle that showed up trying to find their fortune I was hoping he was going to meet a macabre end himself But alas, he did not And I m a bit confused at the ending Hopefully someone can help me out Either way, I enjoyed the book Mel The least Charles could have done, Constance said, considering seriously, was shoot himself through the head in the drivewayHave you ever tiptoed down a hall in a dark house late at night, not sure if you really heard that bump in the night That is what reading this novel was like, in all of the best ways possible Shirley Jackson is a renowned master at the macabre, the unnerving, the Gothic genre, and this work puts her talents on full display in HD Most have read The Lottery, whether forced by the classically inclined high school English teacher or for the pure love of the unusual, and here you will find the same masterful foreshadowing, biting eeriness and haunting cruelties found in a small town community As my Grandma used to say, You can always count on those ole townies to hide the most secrets, put on the most airs and turn on ya the quickest, and Jackson, once again, highlighted those small town characteristics in a manner that left hairs raised on the arms and resonance echoing at the finish of each chapter We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a novel about two young adult sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance, who have essentially become lepers in their small town after an incident at their family dinner table six years before that left half of their family poisoned to death, one sister on trial for murder and the other in an orphanage The women go about their lives, hardly ever even leaving their property and being openly hated by the townspeople, kept company by their ailing, eccentric uncle who loves to talk about what happened and their loyal cat, until one day a cousin comes a knocking and their lives are forever changed It slowly becomes apparent that Merricat Mary Katherine is not 100% mentally stable, as she believes she has voodoo like magical powers to protect herself, her family and her home, she has fantasies about how her dead family members should have treated her before they died, and she harbors obviously sadistic and murderous feelings towards the townspeople who tease and abuse themI would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs Donell while she lay thereThis story had an aspect of urban legend to it, the makings of it and the effect that it has on those who hear it, who believe it Jackson wove the tale so beautifully that I didn t even realize how engrossed in their lives a sign of truly good writing I d become until the cousin started changing the sisters routine and poking his nose around in that way that is uncomfortable for readers invested in the protagonists, in that way that makes your heart rate quicken just a touch This story was a peep behind closed doors, both literally and figuratively It was a look inside the protective bubble of recluse ness, while simultaneously being an exploration of man s nature to fear and hate what we do not, ourselves, understand It was also social commentary in that delicious way that only Southern Gothicism can offer though this novel has no clear mention of place, it is widely believed to have been set in Vermont, making it technically not Southern Gothic, though every other aspect of it is every bit that genre it tore back the layers on the small town where everyone knows your name, on the myth of genteelism, courtesy, manners, and community that we all think of from this era of writing Castle was originally published in 1962 What does it mean to be an outsider in a town like this, in a town where there is no degree of separation between any In a town that needs a common enemy to unite over in gossip and violence alike Because, you see, every bully loves a weaker kid, and there s nothing cruel than the mob mentality turned against a common enemy Don t believe me Then you haven t read The Lottery Castle was everything I d hoped it d be as a lover and writer of this genre It was the macabre dressed in politesse that made you think twice a skill extremely difficult to hone and, thus, all the laudable when it is the oddity of family unity and where those bonds can take you, for better or for worse it was the sharp little dagger of lines like the one above and the what really happened there aspect of the dinner table happeningIt did happen I remember that it happenedEerie Easily five stars FOLLOW ME HERE Art Deco Agency Book Blog Twitter Instagram Art Deco Publishing Agency I might be the only person in the world who thinks this book is too weird, senseless, anticlimactic and almost plotless The characters however are charismatic in their craziness It s just not my type of crazy. |Free Book ♴ We Have Always Lived in the Castle ♄ 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 Front Flap A.K.A Grey Gardens by William Faulkner Are these unfortunate souls dead or alive in their domestic limbo Oh, this is one delicious yarn with plenty of turns with a terror that comes to us only by the Literary Mistress of the Dark Herself, Shirley Jackson The luxurious morbidity, the Harper Lee Goth cynicism of the book, it is all an absolute delight I am truly beginning to think that all of her books are like this one the classiest horror of ALL TIME. 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 A cliche in American horror films is to include children singing a song that is seemingly innocent at first, but gnaws at the nerves with a haunting sadism We watch children, young and naive, signing and spinning in a corn field bathed by an autumn dusk the cliche works because it is an image that we welcome through our front door for it s familiar and idyllic pastoral sentimentality only to discover an intangible fear clawing out from within It s the murky pool from which the maggots of urban legends crawl forth and every town has one There is the house on the corner children dare one another to touch, the homeless man we hear bears a horrific curse, the school basement where we are told a student once hanged themselves and still roams about two of the three existed in my childhood town Often these legends are purely of the imagination, yet occasionally there is a seed of truth Shirley Jackson s We Have Always Lived in the Castle focuses on the subjects of the urban legend seed, and holds the reader captive in their reclusive reality The reader however, will not wish to leave this literary bondage and will likely find themselves sitting up flipping pages late into the evening Two young woman and their ailing uncle are the sole occupants a mansion set off from the town, the sole survivors of a family poisoning that reverberates through the town with rumors and speculative fear Castle is a chilling late night walk through the haunted forests of human consciousness, a gripping psychological horror ripping through the idyllic American classic feel of the novel to expose the Gothic terrors that drench the New England landscapes.We always fear what we don t understand What makes Castle work so well is it s familiarity and it s warmth, an unexpected aspect to this chilling portrait of misanthropy The novel humanizes the subjects of the townsfolk s fear and revulsion, and it does so without apology by not skirting the issues of murder and isolation Jackson sets the reader into this world without making them feel ill at ease through her style, a familiar embrace of tone and structure which recalls the small town American classics It seemed to follow the format of a book you would read for high school literature, opening with a riveting first chapter that quickly yet eloquently set all the pieces in play while feeding you exposition hidden in the sugars of plot and leaving you gasping with questions you can t wait to have fulfilled Then it is followed by a second, lengthier chapter where an overarching conflict is introduced, typically through a minor conflict in plot where exposition is unveiled through the banter of characters It s this sort of nostalgia for high school classics that immediately opens your heart to the book, but not just in structure but the plot, setting and characters as well Harper Lee s To Kill A Mockingbird is the first to come to mind Like Lee, Jackson tells her story from the viewpoints of a young, tomboyish girl and wraps her tale within the folds of local politics and society Here we have Mary Katherine, or Merricat as she is often referred, a girl of eighteen akin to a feral cat Her and her sister Constance are embedded in the local society, but from a view on high being born into a family of wealthy landowners Merricat, despite her disgust for her deceased relatives, continues their looking down the nose opinions of the locals as filth except hers is one of violent hatred I would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs Donell while she lay there I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this I only wished they would come true. Merricat s opening chapter is unabashedly honest, but doesn t quite read like a confession but as matter of fact Like a cat it is fitting that Merricat is always accompanied by a loyal and almost too human cat as if it were a children s novel Merricat is the sort to look you straight in the eye while she destroys the furniture Which she will do time and time again out of spiteI can t help it when people are frightened, says Merricat I always want to frighten them Merricat has many reasons beyond her better than thou upper class upbringing to sadistically sneer at the townsfolk They hate her and her older sister, reviling Constance for allegedly getting away with mass murder, they hate their family for former wounds caused by the snobbish and cruel father, and they take their disgust out with ridicule Eventually, as events transpire, the sisters take on a sort of legend for their reclusive behavior and disregard for the company of villagers, being said to eat children among other things The sisters are a symbolic repression of women and all things not aligning with the social norms of any age, damned into either shame or blissful solitude as rumors take wing and transform into hellish mythical beasts Poor strangers, they have so much to be afraid of.By focusing on the sisters and viewing the world through Merricat s childish and imaginative mind, we gain a unique perspective on the society The children signing sadistic rhymes of horror films are in this perspective are the well to do well wishers that feign friendliness towards the sisters Both sides of this coin are seemingly innocent moments cloaking something sinister When the disgust of the townsfolk reaches a violent climax, the sisters are further forced out from society towards a perspective that even the legitimate kind gesture must be ignored as to forever remove themselves from such a volatile society Returning to the Merricat s mind, it is her twisted perspective that most brilliantly colors the social portrait For her any deviation from her comfortable normality is seen as threatening a parallel to the social standards of the town that see their deviation as threatening and Merricat feels imbued with magical powers that ward off such demons All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us. An old book nailed to a tree, for example, becomes a totem of power to her When it falls so does her feeling of security She is the wild human consciousness repressed, regressed and full of animalistic defensiveness It is fitting that Jackson would choose New England as the setting for her novel, a novel that if it weren t for the mention of cars could be set in nearly any New England era The novel recalls the witch hunts of the area in all its Gothic sensibilities What better place for a chilling tale told in the American wilderness It is also reflective of the obdurate beliefs of a conservative catholic New England that so threatened Jackson and her Jewish husband that Jackson developed extreme agoraphobia.While out on my delivery route, I listen to a lot of NPR This fall the Diane Rehm show did a segment on Jackson s The Haunting of Hill House, a quintessential literary haunted house novel that I so loved in college Comically, and much to the chagrin of the guests two people well versed in the life and literature of Jackson Ms Rehm openly hated the novel, even sighing when callers would label it as wonderful or genius At one point, the two guests agreed that We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Jackson s strongest work of fiction which places it even higher for them than her short story The Lottery, which is a staple of any American college student s required literature courses I immediately made an unofficial stop to a used bookstore I d recently discovered I have a least one bookstore for route that I rotate through and purchased a copy of Castle It did not disappoint It was a fine friend to have riding shotgun amidst the landscapes disrobing themselves of their fall colors that passed outside my van windows every day Castle is an exquisite psychological tale of trauma and terror that your heart is sure to welcome in and grow fond of as it hides it s dagger behind it s back.4 5 There had not been this many words sounded in our house for a long time, and it was going to take a while to clean them out. Guest Judy Oppenheimer, author of Private Demons The Life of Shirley Jackson, added that her favorite of any Jackson book was Life Among the Savages Living With the Savages, Jackson s memoirs about raising children You can listen to the entire segment here. Ah Merricat, silly Merricat, I do believe I love you I m drawn to interestingly insane women, and though of course you would poison me in the end, what a maddening and mysterious time I would first have You are high on my list of literary loves At least ones I dare speak of What I found so wonderful about this novel was the consistency of Merricat s insanity Too often an author will distill the essence of insanity into the chaotic, and this is rarely a truism Insanity is often an overly demanding focus, a hitch in a character, a mannerism that has growth as a cancer Merricat who I cannot help but to picture as beautiful, with long and lustrous black silken hair despite all stated references to the contrary loves to be left alone that is, alone with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian and she loves her superstitions Her superstitions I found charming, and the lengths she will go to in order to remain alone, well, that is the crux of this novel Merricat, silly Merricat, one day I will go into the village and distribute much needed and much deserved vengeance on your only somewhat illusory tormentors, and then I will go off I dare not approach your house such is forbidden to await you on the moon.