Six years after four family members died of arsenic poisoning, the three remaining Blackwoods—elder, agoraphobic sister Constance; wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian; and 18-year-old Mary Katherine, or, Merricat—live together in pleasant isolation. Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic to guard the estate against intrusions from hostile villagers. But one day a stranger arrives—cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune—and manages to penetrate into their carefully shielded lives. Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods, resulting in crisis, tragedy, and the revelation of a terrible secret.
©1962 Shirley Jackson (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“At certain moments, quietly, in quick, subtle transitions of tone, Miss Jackson can summon up stark terror, make your blood chill and your scalp prickle....To all the classic paraphernalia of the spook story, she adds a touch of Freud….” (New York Times Book Review)
I first read this book as a kid and at the time identified with the teenage Mary Katherine, without questioning her as an "unreliable narrator." When I got the audiobook all these years later, I thought it would be fun to revisit a story I had liked. I was surprised at how Bernadette Dunne voiced the narrator character. She has a kind of tremor of fear in her voice right from the start. This isn't the quirky imaginative heroine who faces down the hateful townfolk and her encroaching cousin that I remember: this is a phobic young woman who tries to use to ritual to try to control her world, who is disturbed and disturbing!
After listening to this recording, I found myself questioning my earlier interpretation of the whole story. Though Mary Katherine calls her cousin Charles a ghost, this one isn't a ghost story. Though Mary Katherine believes in magic, and tries to create magic protection for herself, this one isn't a supernatural story. Still, the further the story goes, the further it is from reality. The ending is what I remembered, but I don't remember finding it so strange and unbelievable. This is a good thing, to me. There is so much more to think about and wonder about after hearing the recording.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
Completely defies definition. Not really a thriller, mystery or horror story. No violence or gore, nothing overtly supernatural, and yet from the very beginning you feel unsettled, disturbed. You know something is just wrong, but have no choice but to take the grand tour of the Blackwood’s home and life with Merricat as your tour guide. No other perspective is provided, and as the tour progresses you kind of want to escape, but remain mesmerized in spite of yourself (like one guest who comes to tea uninvited). The family fears the outside world, the villagers fear the family, and the reader watches transfixed as inevitable forces ignite those fears into horrible actions/reactions. Humans really are the scariest of all creatures. Perfectly read by Bernadette Dunne.
Some people might not "get" this book, but if it works for you, you are in for a treat. Shirley Jackson is a brilliant writer, and this is her at her best. It is not a horror novel like The Haunting of Hill House, but it's still very unsettling. It is about a family who live a secluded life. The protagonist is creepy, but also very sympathetic, so as the reader you root for her even as she does weird things, like doing things she considers to be magic spells (e.g., nailing things to trees), and trying to avoid society. She is a great example of an unreliable narrator, and seeing the story through her eyes makes it much more affecting and surreal.
The narration is fantastic. Dunne's tone evokes the antisocial fear and strangeness that the text should have.
This is really a classic -- not only the fine Shirley Jackson book, but the narration turns it into a work of art, creepy and intense. Even if you've read the story, this is a new experience. It gave me a new appreciation for Shirley Jackson, too, although this is one of those books where the audio version is really preferable to the printed version. If you like classic horror, don't miss this one.
“Poor strangers, they have so much to be afraid of.”
― Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
This is an amazing book. I didn't realize going in that Shirley Jackson had written the famous/crazy/haunting short story The Lottery.
I think it is hard for books to capture the pressures of society and its norms on the individual. There is a bit of hysteria that goes on in the mind regarding the world outside of ourselves, that many novels glide right over as they head straight to the action. We Have Always Lived in the Castle captures the inner workings of an unhealthy family in such a true way it is difficult to read. Nothing much happens here, yet everything is laced in fear and suspicion.
The only other books I've discovered which are able to capture the overbearing role a person's mind and thoughts play in their life are older ones, like Poe, or the more recent American Genius, A Comedy by Lynne Tillman. It takes a truly incredible author to chronicle little external action, and still create a gripping read.
My only regret here was listening to the Audible version rather than getting the hard copy with the intro from Jonathan Lethem. The audiobook didn't include his introduction, and the narrator really overplayed a story that could have stood on its own without the theatrics.
Dunne's performance of this dark, insinuating book is excellent. The voice of the first-person narrator really gets inside of your head and it is hard to shake her when you take off the head phones. The book explores a lot of Jackson's obsessions, her belief in the reality of magic and witchcraft, and seems built upon her later-in-life fear of people outside her small circle and related agoraphobia.
Mexican American Female living in California. Love to read BUT lack the time to indulge in a good read and so greatly enjoy audio books.
Not really, its a story that takes a long time to get to its point. You have to really enjoy listening to stories and have a dedicated imagination to stick with this story.
Her voice helps draw you into a story that would otherwise be painful to follow
Yes to compare to my own vision
Mary Katherine ("Merricat") and Constance Blackwood live with their wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian in their once-grand family home. The wealthy Blackwoods have always been ostracized by the local townspeople, but when almost the entire Blackwood clan is wiped out by arsenic poisoning, the survivors become outcasts, hated and shunned. Constance was tried for the crime but acquitted; now she hides in her home, unable to face the accusing eyes and jeers of the outside world.
The story is narrated from the viewpoint of Mary Katherine, whose life is full of strange rituals and talking to her cat, Jonas. She is fascinated with poisonous herbs, she fantasizes about living on the moon, and she wants most of all to live with her sister Constance and never see anyone else. She creates magic words, buries things in the yard, and uses other spell-like rituals to "protect" the house and her sister, and since Merricat is the one telling the story, it's not clear whether she's really crazy or not.
The story unfolds slowly until you have a pretty good idea of what really happened before it is revealed, but the brooding, sinister tone of this short novel is creepy and dark and gothic, and by the end, it's not clear who the real villains are: the person who murdered an entire family, the greedy cousin who shows up looking for the supposed fortune hidden in the house, or the envious, grudging, small-minded villagers who feign concern and hospitality while mocking the Blackwood girls behind their backs.
Not t your typical horror story; all the deaths have already happened before the book begins, and if you are looking for elements of the supernatural, you will have to look hard. This is what you might call an American psychological thriller, where the horror is what is very subtly revealed about Merricat and Constance and the Blackwood family, and the nature of ordinary people in ordinary small towns.
I must have missed it. Good performance, but I got more frustrated with the story as it went along. I enjoyed the writing style, especially a few particular scene narratives, but I was left with a "why did I do that? feeling". Not scary, just kind of weird.
I don't usually rush out for all the "best sellers", but give each intriguing book/author a look. I have found many diamonds in the rough.
Two sisters and their uncle are all that remain after the deliberate poisoning of their entire family. The courts could not prosecute any of them because of lack of evidence. The uncle is not really a suspect because he almost died with the family and is now bound to a wheelchair. Because there was not any kind of conviction the sisters are relentlessly harassed by the local residents and therefore do not go into town unless absolutely necessary. Both sisters are strange, the oldest is too eerily kind and over the top, peaches and cream, the younger sister is similar to a wild animal with bizarre actions and screwball ceremonial rituals. They live in a home outside of town for years before a distant cousin, with an agenda, comes to live with them to see just what he can swindle from the estate. The strange goings on become even more warped and elevated when the devious cousin try's to step in and relegate all actions and decisions that are made. Eventually a not so accidental tragedy strikes and the sisters are thrown into an even more demented and isolated existence.
Agorphobia is just one of their defects. I could not decide, "psychopath or sociopath". A creepy story made even darker by Shirley Jackson's ability to spin a good spooky yarn. No gore or terrifying moments, just weeeird. It's perfect for Halloween.
"Dreadful- in a good way"
So well done listening to it made me feel close to a panic attack. A brillantly realised portrait of a paranoid state.
"An oppressive dream - or is it real?"
Why do the villagers hate the Blackwoods? Why does Constance never go out? Why was the sugarbowl washed out? This is a story full of mystery and you can never be sure what is real or imagined. Is Merrycat alive? How old are the sisters? What is Charles really up to?
I will need to read this again just to try and get a handle on the story but I suspect I will just encounter more mystery.
This is a stunning piece of American Gothic and has been perfectly narrated by Bernadette Dunne.
This is for lovers of magical writing that gives us more questions than answers and takes you into a world you will not forget.
"Amazing title, shame about the story"
If it had lived up to the title. I mean, it didn't have to be literally set in a castle. I get that titles can be metaphoric, or designed to capture a vibe or whatever. A brilliant example of this is "Let the Right One In".
The story was about unlikeable people talking drivel and doing stupid things.
I came to Shirley Jackson through the film version of The Haunting of Hill House (the proper film, not the stupid remake). It blew me away, but it was years before I could find a copy of the novel, so my impression of it was probably a bit biased.
Anyway, I was expecting Castle to be a bit sinister and creepy, with an explicit supernatural element - rather than the tedious "was it all in her own mind?" thing. Instead it was just endless descriptions of what they were growing in the garden, what they're cooking, and what the silly little girl thinks it's like on the Moon.
Oh, and there was some stuff about poisoning that completely failed to engage my interest.
No. I actually have Hill House on my MP3 player - I bought it thinking I might like to revisit it in unabridged audio form - but haven't played it yet.
Disappointment. And, oddly, I found my love for Hill House lessened. I've heard of this happening before - a lot of people found their love for the original Matrix film diminished by the time they got to the end of the trilogy.
It would be nice if we could re-review books. I might try this again in a year or two and find my opinion completely changed.
Wonderful gothic story full of magic. Written beautifully and read in a attractive, sing song voice
"Eerie and gripping"
I haven't read the print version, but I have read other Shirley Jackson books and I enjoyed hearing her words read aloud
After the fire, when the townspeople surround the two sisters
It made me feel quite tense and uncomfortable
"Strange but utterly mesmerising"
What a wonderful and intriguing read this is. So dark and from the full throated American Gothic tradition, this is spooky and puzzling in equal measure. It's a bit like seeing the world from Boo Radley's PoV, if he were a strange little girl. You're never sure what's real and what isn't, and the imagery within is both domestic yet utterly surreal. Love it.
"Irritating - emporer's clothes?"
It's going to be hard not to plot spoil - but without giving you the detail - you constantly get the feeling that there are some big '6th Sense' twists in here that will appear towards the end - well I'm afraid there aren't - it's just a ridiculous, irritating story that doesn't add up.
A decent plot.
Maybe but it won't be any time soon.
She voices the characters well.
Boredom. I kept waiting for something to happen - a twist or major event.
Not a good choice for me. Disappointing. Some will say I've missed the point of the book but I expect more from my audiobooks and I had to force myself to finish this.
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