I had heard about this book awhile ago through BookTube, but was first really introduced to Shirley Jackson in English Composition II when we read “The Lottery”. I ended up writing an entire paper on the significance of the Black Box in that story, but I always had We Have Always Lived in the Castle in the back of my head in my mental TBR list.
Marry “Merricat” Katherine Blackwood and Constance Blackwood, sisters, and their Uncle Julian, as well as Merricat’s feline friend, Jonas, live life in their sprawling home left to them six years ago when a terrible tragedy left the three (or four) of them to fend for themselves. Shirley Jackson weaves a dark and terrifying story of the mysteries behind this family and why everyone is so afraid of them. What actually happened to the Blackwoods?
I went into this knowing very little, but the opening paragraph hooked me and I could not put it down from there.
The dark and twisted world of the main character, Merricat, is one of intrigue and suspense. The way Jackson shapes the vocabulary and ignorance of Merricat and the world around her are what truly make this a haunting read, all spinning around the question of:
What really happened to the Blackwoods?
The tension as Merricat goes into town and how the people treat her is nearly impossible to imagine, but then you think of the time we’re in now, and how easily ridicule could come on to someone, or a family, so easily. How easily it would be to get shunned like that – especially in a small town.
But, Merricat, her sister Constance and Uncle Julian have managed to get by, even with the town’s distaste in them and the mystery surrounding their family – shutting themselves away and creating their own little world at the Blackwood home. But when Cousin Charles shows up, befriending Constance and disrupting their normal routine, Merricat isn’t pleased. How will she restore this bliss that they had in their castle?
- The writing style
- I quite favor this type of writing. It reminds me so much of the writing of J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye. Jackson manages to portray the innocence and ignorance of the young so beautifully.
- Fast, but fulfilling read
- Leaves a lingering impression
- Very little on the outer world beyond the house
Starting with the single con, Jackson doesn’t paint a very broad picture beyond the world of the Blackwoods. While this did not bother me, per se, as I believe she was attempting to showcase the fantasy world Merricat has built in her mind, this could be an issue for some, as the townspeople aren’t really portrayed except in criticizing the Blackwoods.
Focusing on the pros, Jackson’s writing reflects the ignorance and innocence that is Merricat and what she stands for. And, while this a fast read, it is one that leaves you “book full”, if that makes any sense. It manages to pack so much successfully (mystery, suspense, childhood youth/ignorance) that it leaves the reader feeling fulfilled.
One of the main things I enjoyed was the dialogue between Constance and Merricat and then also Merricat’s own, personal thoughts. Reitterating on the theme of this childhood ignorance, these are the main things driving that point to the reader of how young Merricat’s mind is – how unaware it is to the outside world.
Speaking of Charles, who shows up at about 50 pages in, I do feel like he was more of an object than an actual person or character in the story, as he was merely a disruption and not an actual living being it seemed upon reflection, in what I think is a disillusioned retelling of the fall of this “perfect” thing between Mary Katherine, Constance, Uncle Julian, and even Jonas, the cat.
Speaking of the cat, Jonas, appearing in many of the scenes of the book, offers a deep extension of Merricat’s mind and how she describes this cat as if he is a human, which goes into the further supporting argument that Jackson is a master at painting the mind of this disillusioned youth that is Mary Katherine.
While I’ll admit, I did kind of see the twist coming, this book, I feel, wasn’t about the twist, but about everything around it – the town and how it has reacted to the Blackwoods, the entire mystery and power behind rumors, and then being smacked in the face by truth and the consequences of that.
While this has probably been said many times before about this book, Jackson has created a masterpiece.
Characters: 4.5 / 5.0
Action/Dialogue: 5.0 / 5.0
Overall Story: 5.0 / 5.0
FINAL RATING: 5.0
Another 5 star review already! Wow!
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is definitely one I would highly recommend – especially if you enjoyed the writing in The Catcher in the Rye. (However, do not misunderstand, the story line between this book and The Catcher in the Rye are nothing similar, but the style of writing is something comparable, in my opinion.)
For some reason I’m a sucker for characters who like to tell it how it is and aren’t afraid to share their opinion, even if they’re wrong, which is something I could definitely feel in this.
This is a book I want to put on my shelf permanently, and I think anyone even moderately interested in literature today should pick this one up as you can see many themes that resonate in modern-day storytelling.
Please, treat yourself and buy it here. (Note: This version is fewer pages, as I checked mine out from my University library and it is a different printing.)
Again, HIGHLY recommended. This will be added to my list of favorites.
If you have read this book, I would love to hear what you have to say about it.
Even if you didn’t like the book, I must remind you that these are just the honest opinions of an English Major.