Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review of the Day: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

It is hard to review a book that I so horribly misinterpreted that I ruined it for myself.

Shirley Jackson's dark masterpiece, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is a physiologically chilling little novel about the remnants of the Blackwood family, living in their mansion, ostracized by the villagers in their small New England town.

The completely unreliable (unhinged) narrator is 18-year-old Mary Katherine, known as Merricat, who floats around acting like a spooky 12-year-old while her older, long-suffering sister Constance spends her days cooking, putting up preserves, caring for their ill uncle, and otherwise tending the house she is too agoraphobic to leave. Meanwhile, poor demented old Uncle Julian obsesses over his memorialization of the day, six years earlier, when most of the family died.

This is a terrifically creepy book; not scary, but a real psychological study of family madness.

Unfortunately – and this is not a spoiler – I thought it was about ghosts. I thought that Marricat, or maybe all three of the Blackwells – were ghosts and that this was a ghost story. So when people came to visit them, or Merricat went into town, I pondered whether the people could really see them, or just the things they moved around, or just what was going on.

I was completely wrong. The Blackwells aren't ghosts. This isn't a ghost story. I have no idea where I got such a notion. But because I was looking at the story through such a distorting prism, I missed the opportunity to experience the book as it was intended. Drat!


If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


This is on Erica Jong's list of Top 100 20th Century Novels by Women.

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