Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Have Always Lived in the Castle



Would you believe I've had this book for over five years and have only read it recently? It's been talked about so much among book bloggers of late that I knew I just had to read it. I have a Penguin edition from 1984 (shown above) with a beautiful cover illustration by Harry Bliss. I prefer this cover over the newer editions and I feel it really conveys the atmosphere of the book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) by American author, Shirley Jackson, is a sinister and well-written novel. Mary Katherine and her sister Constance live with their invalid Uncle Julian in an isolated old house. Four of their family members were poisoned with arsenic six years ago. Constance got the blame but was acquitted and since then the three Blackwoods live in almost total isolation from their village next door save for a weekly trip to the general store and visits from the doctor and a friendly villager. They somehow manage to live this way until their greedy cousin Charles comes and upsets their well ordered routine.

*SPOILER ALERT*
This novel is very well-written and very atmospheric, however, I was still a bit disappointed in the end. It didn't take a lot of pages to figure out that Mary Katherine was indeed the murderer and that Constance out of love for her much younger sister has decided to play the martyr. Mary Katherine has episodes of bizarre behaviour and she isn't a very likeable character. In fact she seems to be ultimately dangerous. Constance is the one we feel sorry for. I felt like shaking her a few times and saying, "Constance! Leave this house! Leave your sister!" In fact there's almost a sigh of relief when a new person appears on the scene in the person of cousin Charles. However, he soon proves to be just a greedy and terrible person. In spite of that, I was still hoping Constance would run away and escape with Charles. At least she'd be out in the real world and then maybe find herself.
I was disappointed because the novel didn't turn out like I expected and the ending of the two sisters now living in total and complete isolation was just too dreary a thought. Readers have described the novel as claustrophobic and yes I definitely agree. In hindsight though, I understand that this is the feeling that Shirley Jackson wanted from her readers. Aside from claustrophobia, also helplessness, frustration and anger. And maybe I just didn't like having those feelings... But I do appreciate what Jackson succeded in doing. It is definitely a classic but I just can't put it on my list of favourites. It's too disturbing.

Is this a creepy novel? Yes, it is creepy but in truth, it's more sad than scary.

2 comments:

  1. Hi, Mrs. B! We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favorite reads this year. Like you, I felt sad at the ending.

    I'm still on the lookout for other books by Shirley Jackson. I've been looking for a book that has her very famous short story, "The Lottery", for the longest time.

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  2. I loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle - I know it's one that I'll reread. I almost bought a copy of it the other day, but I didn't care for the new covers. Yours is really nice! :)

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