"We Have Always Lived in the Castle," by Shirley Jackson, A Review
Merricat, Constance and Poor Uncle Julian
As we age, we are said to have clearer memories of our youth, than our present. It is due to this phenomenon that I have begun an expedition of unearthing obscure titles of authors I read as a younger person.
Recently I was thinking about "The Lottery", a short story written by Shirley Jackson that we were required to read in Junior High School. In casual but undocumented polls by me regarding the work of Shirley Jackson, almost everyone in a U.S. public school has probably read "The Lottery."
Working in the library, it is good to keep up with new books and publications, but it is important to have writers from other eras around, because it can give us a better perspective of our own histories. Needing to re-read it, I was startled to realize that her work was not so easy to find.
During my search, I discovered many other short stories written by Shirley Jackson that were obscure to me. I am Shirley Jackson crazy. She was a Librarian. People; she had a good read on them. Brilliant.
Reviewing - Not A Book Report
Those of us who write, often are extreme readers too.
Looking for new authors to read, it is my habit to read the best and worst rating reviews, and take both with a grain of salt. There are too many possible slants in a review. My reviews are a greedy-reader's reaction to the work. No Spoilers. Each reader needs to let the story mean to them what it will.
Two years later I am still in awe of this work, and the many characters of Shirley Jackson's head.
The following is my review of "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" by Shirley Jackson.
"We Have Always Lived In The Castle" by Shirley Jackson
The Blackwood family are a study in psychology. This story is a brilliant, dark and honest insight into a group of people called a family. The ability of Author Shirley Jackson to show her characters many sides is pin pointed and marvelously poisonous [sic].
The story is told from the viewpoint of Mary Katherine Blackwood aka "Merricat" Blackwood. She is 18 years old.
The reader is first introduced to her as she notices and references the library books that remain on a kitchen shelf, and always will.
Merricat is one of three survivors of a Blackwood patricide. Mary Katherine (Merricat), her older sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian.
The rest of her family were victims of mass arsenic poisoning. The arsenic was put into the sugar bowl, that fatal night. "...Constance would never use sugar...", and Mary Katherine had been in trouble; sent to her room, away from supper, and Uncle Julian was taken so ill, he only became cripple, but did not die."
Constance stood trial, while Merricat "...died alone in an orphanage during the trial."
If you have read The Haunting of Hill House, or seen the film, it is easy to take hold of that darkish dream-like quality of the Blackwood family characters, who seem to walk a chasm between this world and the next.
The entire time I was reading this book, I was wondering if the remaining Blackwoods were simply ghosts, or truly fleshly survivors.
Merricat, Constance and Poor Uncle Julian
Merricat Goes To Town, The People Do Not Like It
Merricat is not well liked in the village, although the shopkeeper, and cafe owner are happy to receive her money. The Blackwoods are wealthy, and can afford the finest meats, and anything they need, their wealth is a contention with the villagers.
The Blackwood's wealth is not the only thing that separates the Blackwoods from the love of the villagers; they are sure her sister Constance is an unrepentant murderess.
Mary Katherine is a teenage girl, recently 18. she is odd, and goes about with her hair in a mess. She is always working a cloud of insane puzzles and jingles she must constantly work to keep she, and her sister Constance, and their home safe from interlopers.
She buries silver coins on their property, nails books to trees, and keeps a hiding place in case of the need to leave their castle.
One day, it happens. one of Merricat's good luck charms; a book of her father's falls from the tree she nailed it to. "The nail became so rusty it failed." Mary Katherine knew this was a bad sign, and wished she had taken the time to find a new way to secure the book. In her puzzled, magical thinking, she will consider this the moment their luck changed for the worse.
**SPOILER ALERT** The Interloper Arrives...
Long lost Uncle Charles arrives the next day.
Charles Blackwood, the cousin of Constance and Merricat, resembled Mr. Blackwood who perished with the tainted sugar. He was of a branch of the Blackwoods who had disassociated themselves with the Blackwood family during the murder trial against Constance.
Charles felt it was his business to step into the role of family leader, and set everything into an order that included him checking into the unspent wealth of Connie Blackwood. His meddling ends in a fire where the "castle" is burned on the upper half, Uncle Julian dies, while Merricat and Constance make the best of it as they can.
The rage of the village stormed against the Blackwoods as surely as the fire did, those who were called upon to put out the flames, instead broke, smashed, destroyed and assaulted the remaining Blackwoods.
The ending of this book makes me wonder over again if the Blackwoods were ghosts or living beings. Their lives seemed full, while their existence was cloistered.
The psychology exhibited in the characters of the Blackwoods, and the villagers can be seen in snips and snaps around us. It really can be found where jealousy, envy and avarice are planted in the human mind.
This book is a unique study in human behavior, and an example of unfettered writing.
"We Have Always Lived In The Castle" by Shirley Jackson, Review by Magali Najarian
How Did I Rate This Book?
citation: "We Have Always Lived In The Castle" by Shirley Jackson; Penguin Books. Originally Published in 1962 three years before Shirley Jackson's passing, and then released again in 1984. 214 pages paperback
© 2013 Lori J Latimer