Story: 4/5 Weird. Very weird. Not an incredible amount of plot, but enough for those of us who prefer the plot to be the driving factor in stories.
Pace: 3/5 Slow beginning. Medium middle and end.
Characters: 5/5 No complaints here. Merricat, the narrator was extremely strange and fascinating to live in for the story. The two other main characters, Constance and Uncle Julian, were also memorable.
Setting: 3.5/5 This story basically only took place in their home and the land surrounding it. I liked how Merricat interacted with the setting
Shirley Jackson may not ring a bell for you right away, but you’ve likely either read or watched her work before. Shirley Jackson wrote, “The Lottery,” a creepy short story about a town that performs an annual rite in which a community member is chosen to die to maintain the wellbeing of the community. This was her most well-known story until Netflix put out their series The Haunting of Hill House, a horror story that was binged by most everyone when it came out. That series is based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, although many people probably don’t know that. I have read both “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and now, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I won’t compare The Lottery with a full novel, but I can say that I much preferred We Have Always Lived in the Castle over The Haunting of Hill House. So, what’s it about?
“Delving deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when outside forces disrupt their delicate way of life. Mary Katherine ‘Merricat’ Blackwood—among the most memorable narrators in twentieth-century fiction—lives in the Blackwood family home with the reclusive company of only her sister Constance, once accused of fatally poisoning her own family, and her Uncle Julian, confined to a wheelchair and obsessed with his ongoing memoirs. Together, they have grown comfortable with a quiet, isolated existence, despite continual persecution by the townsfolk. But when their estranged cousin Charles arrives at the estate armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into her father’s safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect her remaining family.”Penguin Classics description
This book is a very quick read. The Penguin Classics version I read came in at 146 pages. It was published in 1962 and if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, you might notice that it does read a little “old fashioned.” But after the first chapter or two, you’ll get in the groove. It is a bit slow to start. Jackson takes care to set up Merricat’s very particular perspective in a way that pays off excellently as you go through the story, but it can be a bit odd while you wait for that pay off.
And trust me, it does. The best part of this novel is the narrator. The plot is okay. The other characters are interesting, but it’s Merricat who kept me reading. I knew from the beginning she is a classic unreliable narrator, but that didn’t matter. I was living in her world and it was fine with me. Jackson’s ingeniously weaves in these superstitious rules and behaviors that Merricat does to keep her home safe in a way that makes them seem the most logical and natural thing in the world. They are the perfect amount of strange that witchcraft comes to mind, but is never mentioned or even implied:
“On Sunday mornings, I examined by safeguards, the box of silver dollars I had buried by the creek, and the doll buried in the long field, and the book nailed to the tree in pine woods; so long as they were where I put them nothing could get in to harm us.”pp. 41
And that isn’t even the weirdest one.
Honestly, the climax of the novel was not what I expected or maybe even hoped for. There wasn’t that big reveal that I was expecting, but a more quiet understanding. But don’t let that deter you. If you are looking for a read that brings you that unsettling, creepy feeling we all weirdly crave in the fall, pick this up. The Haunting of Hill House is also a good choice.