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.
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.
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.
This is an American masterpiece, a classic that has been grossly overlooked in classes across the nation. Shirley Jackson created fiercely real character who will engage, entice and disgust you. Written in the 1960s is is scary how little things have changed. So many classrooms could benefit from this wonderful short novel.
Myst/thrillers and ✨fun fantasies✨are my favorites but always open for a good story.
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.
I love books.
Chilling. Superb. Wow.
I love this story and Bernadette's reading was fabulous!
No. I wanted it to last as long as possible.
Very much enjoyed it and I would recommend it to everyone--and I have. :)
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.
"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.
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