Sunday, April 11, 2021

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

by Shirley Jackson
Release Date: February 21st 2021; October 31st 2006 (This edition. First published: September 21, 1962)
2006 Penguin Books
Kindle Edition; 146 Pages
ISBN: 978-0143134831
Genre: Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 /5 Stars

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-cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead...
*Spoilers Ahead*
My Thoughts
We Have Always Lives in the Castle is one of those books I read as a kid and always wanted to read again, so when the publisher contacted me and offered me an updated copy, I grabbed the chance to read it as an adult.  I remember being a bit afraid of this book when I was younger, but I definitely had a different reaction reading it again; and it had nothing to do with knowing the story as I remembered very little, it was more to do with this great build up, then,,,nothing.
This book definitely did have the creepy atmosphere down to perfection though, and I think that is what I remember the most from this book and what I afraid of the most as a kid.  I loved the nature of the unreliable narrator and how psychotic she was; the way she wished for things to happen, but in such a simplistic way, was chilling.  I could almost feel my toes curl as the narrator spoke, especially when she referenced her sister, Constance, as you could almost feel the invisible ropes around her, binding her to the narrator, never letting her go, and the way the author wove the story was spellbinding.  I was very afraid for Constance and what could happen to her if she wanted to simply live her life away from the 'castle'.  
All of the elements were there for a really good and scary story.  So, what happened? Well, it ended up simply being a story of a psychotic sister who wanted her older sister to always be by her side; so, we have these two sisters who live in an isolated mansion amidst the scandal of a huge tragedy whereby the older sister was acquitted of killing her entire family by arsenic.  The uncle survived the tragedy, but due to his 'dementia', wasn't able to quite piece the story together although he was trying to write a book about the tale.  You learn a bit of information through his dialogue, but it was quite well done and I found those sections of the book to be quite eerie. Uncle Julian was a treasure of a character.

And this is where I now have a problem.  The entire story is built up to this climax, and then...nothing really happens.  It was not hard to figure out the truth of what happened to the family members, although I did find the scene with Mary 'talking' to her family members in the summer house to be especially chilling, as you get an idea of how they treated her.  I wish the author had kept up that kind of spooky for the entire book as it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, you know?  

And then you have Cousin Charles Blackwood.  He was supposed to be the catalyst that set everything off, but I'm not sure why as it was very obvious he was only there to look for the 'hidden' fortune.  He was portrayed as being sinister, but in the end, he came off as just another glory seeker looking to find fame and money where he could.  Personally, I found the attempts at making him sinister laughable.

What I was fascinated by as a child, and still am today, is the village.  Part of the mystery, it's where the story begins and Mary spends a huge amount of time thinking about how she would like to poison the lot. There's a detailed description of the buildings, especially the one that used to belong to the Blackwood family, the finest house in the village.  But no answers are given.  The author gives us all this information without really giving us important information, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks ourselves, without really knowing the truth.  This is genius writing and I love it today as much as I loved it back then.  What it reinforced for me as an adult was how little we should trust the narrator, a voice of an eighteen-year-old who still behaves as a child, which makes you question her maturity and her development as well as her ability to really see what is in front of her.  What is real and what is her imagination? It's so interesting!!

We Have Always Lives in the Castle wasn't as scary for me as adult as it was for me as a child, but I was definitely more fascinated with Mary's narrative and her ability to tell fact from fiction as she doesn't necessarily live in the same world as the rest of us.  I love the psychological build up and the eerie atmosphere of this novel, but feel the letdown at the end took away from the overall feel of this book.  As an adult though, I did tend to focus on different things than those of a child, so some things were a bit more chilling than I realized while others not quite so much.  Overall, an okay book, but the ending was a bit of a letdown.