Sep 14, 2008

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”
Merricat Blackwood lives with her sister, her uncle Julian, and her cat, Jonas. On Tuesday and Friday mornings she goes to the village to satisfy two essential needs – the need for food and the need for books. The villagers hate her, and they taunt her with a nursery rhyme. All we know at first is that the reason for this hatred has to do with something that happened six years before. And I’m not going to tell you much more, because, like Eva said, the less you know about this story when you start reading, the more enjoyable it is.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a brilliant book. It’s creepy and disturbing in all the right ways. I mean disturbing in the best possible sense, but also in a very real sense. The implications of the story are beyond sinister. Plus the way the story is constructed is masterful, and the writing is absolutely perfect.

This is a book where things are not what they seem. I wouldn’t say it’s a book with a twist, though, because the revelation is gradual, not sudden. Early on you realize that something is not quite right. Then you begin to suspect what it is. And when it’s finally said out loud, you’re not surprised, but everything gains a new and horrifying kind of meaning.

It’s also a tragic story. A really sad story, particularly for one of the characters. Then there are others you regard with a mix of shock, horror and pity. But I can say no more. There’s a lot more I’d be saying if I could discuss this book freely, but that would spoil all the fun. So read it and find out for yourself.

Oh, and if you happen to get the Penguin Deluxe edition (which you really should, because how amazing is that cover?) please make sure you skip the introduction at first – I did because I had the sneaking suspicion that it would contain spoilers. Then I returned to it at the end, and yep, it gives away the whole plot.

This is something that actually bothers me. I mean, I understand the need to discuss the plot freely when writing about this book – there really isn’t much you can say otherwise – but in that case, why not make it an afterword instead of an introduction? No matter how old a book is, someone is going to be reading it for the first time. And I’m willing to bet that there have been people who bought this edition, read the introduction, and had the story completely spoiled for them. Or maybe I’m weird for thinking that introductions are supposed to be something you can safely read first.

Anyway, rant over. Shirley Jackson is brilliant and I must get my hands on a copy of The Haunting of Hill House.

Other Blog Reviews:
A Striped Armchair
Booknotes by Lisa
books i done read
Nothing of Importance
Care's Online Bookclub
The Bookling
Fizzy Thoughts
Book Addiction
Jenny's Books
Regular Ruminations
A Book Blog. Period.
Bending Bookshelves
Bold. Blue. Adventure.
Fizzy Thoughts
Save Ophelia
So Many Books
Stuck in a Book

(Did I miss yours?)


  1. This has been on my list for awhile but haven't read it yet. I've loved Shirley Jackson since reading "The Lottery."

  2. *applause and a heck yeah for the introductory spoiler rant*

    Seriously, that really irks me as well. I've decided to just skip all of them until the end, but it does seem a little disorderly to have to do that.

  3. I usually read introductions after I've read the book. From experience I have found too many spoilers as well. Truth be told, usually I'm too lazy to read the intro anyway. ;) I've only read The Lottery but this sounds like a perfect curl up on the couch autumn read. I didn't realize she had written longer fiction as well.

  4. I agree with the fact that introductions should be afterwords! I always read them that way. :)

    I just finished reading Hill House, and I liked this one more. I seem to be unique in that! But Hill House is a great read: I hope I can review it soon. ;)

  5. I am definitely adding this book to my list. It sounds very creepy and excellent.

  6. I know what you mean about the intro spoilers. I'm reading The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne right now, and the Foreword did exactly that! Now, it also had some fascinating info that will surely be helpful as I read, but did I REALLY need to know the secret of the island before I even got to page 1?!

  7. This book sounds awesome-I see my library has a copy which is great. I've never heard of it before your review which is great by the way.

    I understand what you're saying about intros. I don't read them anymore until I'm finished the book. I can't understand why they want to give away the story before I've had a chance to read it-doesn't make much sense.

    Anyhoooo, thanks for another great recommendation.

  8. I do that all the time! Esp with classics, I'll read the introduction because I feel like it'll help me better read the book, and they're all, 'When so-and-so finds out that such-and-such isn't his real father' and I'm all, Whaaaa? Damn.

    Although, sometimes I do it to myself. My mom had lent me this one popular series (which I won't name in case you plan on readng it and I ruin it for you) and in the end of the second book, the main character's husband is killed! But before I read the second book, I read what I THOUGHT was the back cover of the second, but was ACTUALLY the back cover of the third. And the back cover is all, 'Having found out that her husband wasn't actually killed after all, bla bla bla.' So when I read the second book, and the guy is killed, I wasn't weeping into my couch cushions because I knew he wasn't dead. I ruined myself a perfectly good cry.

  9. I know exactly what you mean about the intros! I've gotten into the habit of reading them after I read the book, because I end up getting more out of them that way.

    Having read and adored Hill House first I thought Castle was nice, but nowhere near the caliber Hill House reached! If it makes any sense, Hill House is the one book I wish I could read for the first time...again.

  10. This is an interesting book, Nymeth. I'd put that in my wishlist. I do agree with you on the Intro bit. I hate spoilers. I usually skip the intros for classics and like you, return to it when I'm done with the book.

  11. I have been hearing a lot about this book and i really want to read it! I requested it at the library. grrr...patience is not my greatest virtue.:)

  12. thanks for the warning about the intro!

  13. I always read the introductions after I've read the book too. Even doing that, in some classics I've still gotten spoilers from the endnotes. Sigh. This does sound great though. Another for the wishlist! Would you stop doing that!! ;)

  14. This sounds fantastic, thanks Nymeth!

  15. Oh, I was getting annoyed with the very same thing just last night when I started Dracula! I started reading the introduction but had to quit because it was giving away so much. Now, I'm sure most people actually know the story, but I don't so I really didn't want it ruined for me. Oh well, my stupidity...suppose I should have known better.

    Anyway, you've now really got me wishing I hadn't started Dracula last night...I really, really, really want to dive right into this one now!!! It is short...maybe I could sneak it in real quick...then I could get right back to Dracula and no one would notice that I didn't quite follow the voting...

  16. I read The Haunting of Hill House when I was a teen and have wanted to read this one for a while. Must get around to re-reading all of Shirley Jackson some day.

    As to introductions, I had an high school English teacher tell us to never read an Introduction first unless it's written by the author and I've followed that rule ever since.

  17. Anna, I loved The Lottery. And since you did too, this one will be a winner for you for sure.

    Pardon my French: It's annoying, isn't it? We shouldn't have to do that.

    Trish: I've had some bad experiences as well. And I hadn't realized it either until I starting hearing about this book from fellow bloggers. The mood sort of reminded me of The Lottery, except it was even better!

    Eva: I have a hard time imagine it beating this one too. I just loved it so much. But even if it's just half as good I know I'm still going to love it. I hope you manage to review it soon. I'd love to read your thoughts!

    Charley, hope you enjoy it. It really is excellent.

    Heather J: That's really too bad. I remember reading The Mysterious Island when I was younger, and the ominous mood and mystery were so much fun. Booo for spoilers!

    Dar, I can't understand it either. I hope you enjoy this one!

    raych: lol, I've given myself some serious spoilers like that too. But I've learned my lesson now :P

    Kate: It sounds like I really, really need to get my hands on a copy!

    Alice: Yes, it's the only way to be safe. But we shouldn't have to do that.

    Amy: I hope your turn comes soon. I look forward to your thoughts on it.

    Jena, you're welcome!

    tanabata: lol, I'll try :P I've actually seen serious spoilers on the back cover plot summary of some classics. Seriously, what could the publishers be thinking?

    Joanna, I hope you enjoy it :)

    Debi: It's not your stupidity, it's the publisher's stupidity. They seem to work on the assumption that either a) everyone read every single classic in existence the very year they learned how to read, so whenever someone picks up a classic, it must be to re-read it, or b) Classics are only read for Deep Intellectual Analysis, not for enjoyment, so caring about things like having the story spoiled for us should be beneath us. Anyway, I'm sure no one would notice if you slipped this one in :P It really is very short.

    Nicola: A very sensible rule!

  18. Looks like a lovely read indeed!

    As for introductions I almost always skip them as well because hey, it's the story I'm after :P

  19. I usually skip intros, but not because I'm afraid of spoilers. It's because reading them makes me feel like I'm in school. I don't want to learn about the book, I want to enjoy it, and that means taking it as the author presents it to me in the first pages, not as an introduction sets it up. When I'm done I'll go back and read the intro if I feel like I want a little more insight, but mostly they remain ignored by me.

  20. wow, this sounds so good I wish I could read it now!

  21. Lightheaded: Me too :P But sometimes they give a bit of context, which I appreciate. But I definitely don't appreciate spoilers.

    Jeane: I don't like that lecture-ish tone that some intros have either. I normally like the ones that are by other writers, which tend to be more personal. That was actually the case with the one on this book, but unfortunately it had spoilers all the same.

    Valentina: Maybe you'll be able to find a library copy?

  22. Another one for the 'to get' list. Sounds brilliant but I'm slowly sinking under my tbr pile. Oh well, there are worse ways to go. LOL.

  23. Darn. Another book to add to my TBR list! I've only read The Lottery (about a million years ago in high school). Sounds like a good one for the RIP III Challenge too. I only signed up for the one book, but I finished Tamsin (review coming sometime soon) and want another creepy type book (though I didn't find Tamsin to be creepy really).

  24. Yes, I have learned the hard way to read introductions AFTER reading the book itself. It is ridiculous and should either contain a warning of the potential spoilers or should indeed be an afterward.

    I read this recently and really enjoyed it. I saved the review for R.I.P. and now just need to get around to doing it!!!

    I really enjoyed the feeling, the atmosphere of this story. It had a nice level of eeriness without it feeling forced or manufactured and the story really wasn't so much about the revelation as it was the whole package of what was going on. I had images of the house in the movie, The Others, as I read the story.

    This is definitely a book to read for the R.I.P. III challenge, it is a quick read and a satisfying one as well.

  25. I'm so glad you liked this one. This is another great review! I too had trouble talking about the book for fear of giving too much away. I have the very edition you do, and I'm pretty sure I read the introduction first, but I don't really remember. It's probably something I shouldn't admit, but even when I read an introduction with a spoiler, I usually forget about it after I get into the book.

  26. I haven't thought about this book in a long time, but I'm going straight home and dig out my copy for a quick re-read -
    "...disturbing in the best possible sense, but also in a very real sense. The implications of the story are beyond sinister." a perfect non-spoiler teaser!
    ...I've gotten in the habit of always saving the introduction for when I finish the book - it's the only way to be safe

  27. Cath: lol! Yep, there are :P

    Terri B: Tamsin wasn't very creepy, but I love ghost stories like that. Can't wait for your review! And this one certainly IS creepy.

    Carl: It IS ridiculous, isn't it? It's like they think nobody reads for fun. I really look forward to your review of this one. And yes, I imagined a The Others-ish house too.

    Lisa: It's a good thing that you forget! Normally when I see a spoiler it stays in my mind forever.

    Ken: It was hard to come up with something about this one that didn't give "it" away. I bet I'll revisit this one many times over the years.

  28. Ok, that's it! Onto the TBR pile this goes. I'm not going to mention how long I've been meaning to read one of Jackson's novels after I read and fell in love with "The Lottery." Nope, not mentioning it.

    Great review!

  29. Ahhh, I REALLY need to read this book. I actually can't believe I haven't read it already.

    Fantabulous review, Nymeth!

  30. Yaay, you loved it! I'm so happy! I love how you describe it, 'sinister' is perfect for how it begins. It's been ages - at least 10 years - since I read it, but that sense of eeriness, something not right, from the book has lingered with me over time and space. I am due to reread it soon, so maybe in the next year. Meanwhile it's fascinating to see who loves it more than The Haunting of Hill House, which is my all-time favourite spooky ghost story (now followed by The Woman in Black), or who prefers The Haunting of HH instead. All I can say, is Hill House is better than We Have always really is.

  31. J.S. Peyton, if you loved The Lottery you will love this too!

    Andi: Yes you do :P I really think you'll love it.

    Susan: I soooo need to read The Haunting of Hill House! Most people do seem to prefer it, which gives me a good idea of just how amazing it must be.

  32. I read this one years ago, and it's amazing how fresh it still is in my mind. I can't wait to hear what you think of Hill House - it's a great Halloween read, definitely one of the spookier books I've read!

  33. I think I have finally learned my lesson about reading the introduction first. Who do these people thnk they are and why do the publishers allow them to taint our reading enjoyment? I will now read all introductions last.

    On a side note, I love the cover. It is suitably creepy.

  34. Argh it's a shame when introductions ruin the plot of the story. I like the sounds of creepy and disturbing. Thanks, I hadn't heard of this one.


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