Sunday, November 14, 2010

We Have Always Lived in a Castle - Book Review

Uncle Julian, Constance and Mary Katherine (Merricat) are the only surviving members of the Blackwood family.  The rest of the family died after being poisoned one night as they dined on elegant family china with polished silver utensils. 

After being aquitted of murder, older sister Constance has taken the lead in providing a home for her wheelchair bound Uncle Julian and her less than sane younger sister, Merricat.  Uncle Julian, besides his physical handicaps, is not all there cognitively.   He keeps a record of the events "of that day" on his papers and continuously updates them.  Constance makes sure that Uncle Julian is comfortable, has whatever he needs, and is as happy as he can possibly be between weekly visits from the doctor and the time he needs to rest.

Constance also cares for and is very protective of her much younger sister Merricat.  Merricat wants to live on the moon.  There she would be away from the others who live in the village and taunt her as often as possible.  Aside from burying household and personal items of others, nailing keepsakes to the trees to ward off evil, and her own special hiding places for those times when she needs to escape, Merricat envisions those who are cruel to her dying strange and painful deaths with Merricat watching and enjoying the consequences of their evil ways.  Jonas the black cat is Merricat's only friend besides Constance. 

Uncle Julian, Constance and Merricat have their own daily routine, a dance that is well choreographed and keeps each of them comfortable. 
Until the day that Cousin Charles shows up.
Merricat sees Cousin Charles as a demon/ghost from the very first day, but Charles is able to woo Constance.  Charles is unkind to Uncle Julian and makes insensitive remarks about his craziness and how much of Constance's time Uncle Julian requires.  Charles is more than unkind to Merricat and even threatens to send her away.
As Merricat is pushed to the limit, tragedy strikes again, the village people (and Cousin Charles) show their true colors, and the sisters have to start over...again.

My Thoughts
I'm a huge fan of Shirley Jackson's famous short story, The Lottery.  But, I was not even aware that We Have Always Lived in a Castle even existed until the RIP V challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings which ended with Halloween.  After seeing it mentioned on more than a few RIP V reading lists and then stumbling across the Classics Read Along blog where it was the selection for October,  I decided I was meant to read this book. :)

  As in The Lottery, I believe Jackson had a message in We Have Always Lived in a Castle.  Her message deals with human behavior, the ridiculouslessness of it, and how regular normal people can shift into unbelievable cruelness...especially in a mob situation.

The mob mentality illustrated by the villagers in WHALIAC reminded me of the story of Ruby Bridges. 

My middle daughter was enthralled with this particular children's book about little Ruby
She would stare at the pages that showed the mob lining the sidewalks and the National Guardsmen with their guns...
just so little Ruby could go to school. 

What caught so much of my middle daughter's attention was the illustrator's detail in capturing the anger in the faces of the townspeople. 
These were just regular folks,
not professional killers, child molesters and/or murderers. 
Just regular folks. 
Regular folks who decided that black children should not be allowed to attend school with white children.

May I please say again that these were regular folks who somehow someway convinced themselves and each other that their behavior was RIGHT?
Impossible today to even imagine how they justified their actions.
But, they did.
As did the mob in We Have Always Lived in a Castle.

Even though this novel is very short, there's a lot to think about when you're done.
I will definitely be reading more Shirley Jackson.


  1. I've not read this particular book, but I really enjoyed Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House."


  2. Glad to see your review! I just picked this one up at the library last week.

  3. I have never heard of this book before. While I'm not a huge fan of The Lottery (I appreciate it's message, the book itself just didn't work for me) I do like Shirley Jackson. I'll have to look for this one.

    My daughter loved Ruby Bridges when she was in school. I made a very big impression on her.

  4. I'm looking forward to reading this one -- like you, I only learned about it because of everyone's reviews for the RIP Challenge!

  5. I am amazed by all of the reading I didn't do in high school. Jackson's The Lottery is one of he most well known short stories taught in high school, and I've never read it. I know your review isn't about The Lottery, but it makes me think of all of the connections there are through blogs and how it influences what we choose to read. For instance, your selection of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. For reading your post, I now what to read The Lottery (which is probably a little overdue).

    I am a new follower of your blog and love the variety of posts that you offer. I look forward to reading more of it. I wanted to let you know that I have awarded you with the Stylish Blogger Award. Please visit my blog at to see how to receive the award.

    I understand that you may not want to participate in this type of chain post, but I wanted you to know that I like what you have going on here!