Sunday, September 18, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


Another RIP read -- and a really good one.  In fact, it might be my ideal RIP challenge read:

1.  It's very creepy.
2.  It's very short (only 146 pages in my edition).
3.  It's a book from my TBR shelves that I've been meaning to read since it arrived in February in that Great Big Box of Penguins.

So, this book was a trifecta for a book challenge from the start.  Oh, and what is it about, by the way?  Well.  Published in 1962, this story is told in the first person by Mary Catherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat.  She's about eighteen when the story takes place.  On the day the story begins, Mary is has to go into town, to the library and to pick up the groceries.  Slowly, as she describes her walk, the reader learns about her very odd family.

Merricat lives with her sister and her Uncle Julian in a large mansion, but she's the only one that ever seems to leave.  Actually, her older sister Constance hasn't left the property in years; Uncle Julian is in a wheelchair, and he might be suffering from mental problems.  Pretty quickly, the reader realizes that almost everyone in the village seems to dislike the Blackwoods.  There are whispers and stares, and people pointing at Merricat.  At first I felt really sorry for her, and wondered what in the heck happened (though if you read the back cover it gives away more of the history. I really wish I hadn't, so I won't reveal it here).   As I kept reading, I realized there was a lot more weirdness going on.

Once again, I don't want to give away too much so I don't spoil it for anyone else.  All I will mention is that Shirley Jackson is just masterful at setting the scene and drawing the reader in, and the tension just escalates -- I couldn't put this book down.  Jackson is wonderful at revealing just enough to give the reader clues without giving away too much too fast.  I will admit that there was one big reveal I figured out pretty quickly -- I've read so many mysteries it's pretty easy for me to pick up on important clues.  However, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the story one bit.

Before this, I'd really only read one other work by Jackson, her famous short story, "The Lottery," which is also creepy, but in a different way.  If you haven't read it, you can read it online here.  Jackson is well known for showing the darker underside of small-town life, and this book is so worth reading.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle is dark and creepy and Gothic, and I loved it.  A perfect quick read for the RIP season.

21 comments:

  1. I loved this one! Like you, I read the back and was disappointed that it gave so much away!

    I just finished listening ot The Lottery. It was fantastic! Had me reeling.

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  2. I have this on my shelf at home so I really should include it in my RIP challenge - I love gothic mystery type books. Perfect for this time of year.

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  3. 2. It's very short (only 146 pages in my edition).
    3. It's a book from my TBR shelves that I've been meaning to read since it arrived in February

    That would definitely tick some of my boxes, too, Karen.

    Plus I love the black cat on the front cover, and I spent two years living in a castle - sounds perfect!

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  4. Yeah, that's an gripping novel. And it reads really quick!

    You might also enjoy reading Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lovely House". It's a quick read, very creepy, and covers similar themes. Good gothic fun for October. ;-)

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  5. This is on my list for the RIP challenge too. It will be my first book by Shirley Jackson and I'm really looking forward to it. It does sound like a perfect RIP read!

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  6. I think I get this book confused with another creepy shorter story that may be called The Haunting of Hill House (or maybe called something else entirely and I'm just blanking). I have one of them, but not the other, and always get confused. That said, I do have Shirley Jackson' short stories on my Kindle! I think this one is included.

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  7. Oh, I loved this, too.Finished it last year on Halloween... by candlelight, during a power outage - how perfect is that!? I'm hoping to pick up a copy of The Haunting of Hill House one of these days.

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  8. I read this last year and completely enjoyed it. Despite her strangeness, I liked Merricat and I think Jackson does a fantastic job of creating very unique characters.

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  9. I've had this on my TBR pile for far too long, along with a book she wrote on the Salem witch trials. But I associate Jackson with her funny, warm family memoirs (Life Among the Savages, Raising Demons), even though I've read The Lottery. Thanks for the warning about cover spoilers!

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  10. We both posted about this today!

    I feel lucky that the edition I had for my first read didn't have a back cover summary, so I went into it completely blind!

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  11. I thought this book was wonderful, and I adore this cover. It's perfect for the tone of the book.

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  12. This one sounds terrific for RIP and like something I would read. Definitely adding the title to my TBR list. Great review - made me want to find out more about this family ;)

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  13. This reminds me that I want to add this to my RIP reading list! I was disappointed by The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson, but I still want to give this one a try.

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  14. Yes, this is a PERFECT R.I.P. book! I also enjoy the many reviews of this you can find. It's so deliciously creepy!

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  15. I read this for RIP two years ago and loved it. This year I read The Haunting of Hill House, which was equally intriging and quite different.

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  16. This sounds marvelous! And I adore the cover.

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  17. Amanda -- wasn't The Lottery disturbing? It was the first thing I'd ever read by Shirley Jackson.

    Book Whisperer -- it's a perfect read for RIP.

    Tracy -- two years living in a castle? Wow!!

    LJR -- I've read some of her short stories but I didn't know about "The Lovely House." Thanks for the recommendation.

    Helen -- it was excellent, great choice!

    Aarti - The Haunting of Hill House is her other famous novella. I just checked it out from the library and hope to finish it for RIP soon.

    JoAnn -- I don't think I've actually ever read anything by candlelight -- think I'll have to try it, maybe for my next RIP read.

    Anbolyn -- I agree, I felt really sorry for Merricat in the beginning.

    Lisa May -- It really surprises me to hear that Shirley Jackson's memoirs are funny -- her books and stories are so dark, I'd expected her to have a terrible childhood.

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  18. Eva -- I look forward to reading your review.

    Jenny -- I was so happy to receive this book in the prize box, I've wanted to read it since Amanda raved about it.

    Nadia -- this family is both creepy and fascinating. I'm glad they're not real!

    Care -- I think this is a perfect RIP book. It would be great for Readathon too, since it's so short.

    Fleur Fisher -- I couldn't help myself, I had to check out The Haunting of Hill House after I finished it. I have a big stack of appropriate books for RIP but I don't think I can save it until next year.

    Brenna -- this is the nicest cover I've seen. I am a pushover for a nice cover. And it has those nice deckle edges so it has a vintage feel to it.

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  19. I read this one last year for R.I.P. and loved it...I've been a fan of The Lottery for many years so the tone of this one didn't surprise me. I love the way Jackson makes those who blindly follow others look so stupid. With all their weirdness and intricacies, at least the Blackwoods were their own selves.

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  20. I read this one last year for R.I.P. and loved it...I've been a fan of The Lottery for many years so the tone of this one didn't surprise me. I love the way Jackson makes those who blindly follow others look so stupid. With all their weirdness and intricacies, at least the Blackwoods were their own selves.

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  21. Well, I just finished this book--reading your post last fall made me put the book on the sort tbr list. Creepy is an understatement! Intriguing and unsettling are also apt adjectives. Feels good to have another from the Penguin Classics pile under my belt.

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