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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


***We Have Always Lived in the Castle

by Shirley Jackson

Reviewed October 20, 2003.
Penguin Books, New York, 1984.  Originally published in 1962.  214 pages.

I ordered this book after I read and completely loved Shirley Jackson’s hilarious books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons about life with her houseful of children.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is more along the lines of Shirley Jackson’s eerie and disturbing short story, “The Lottery,” which we read in high school English class and is definitely a masterpiece.

This book, too, is masterfully written.  The narrator is Merricat Blackwood.  She and her sister Constance live in their family home that the Blackwoods have owned for generations.  All the rest of their family is dead.  The library books on their kitchen shelf are five months overdue.

Merricat goes on to tell about the day that she checked out those library books.  She had to walk into the village, where all the villagers hate the Blackwoods.  Still, Merricat was content to make her weekly shopping trip into town.  Then their cousin Charles turns up, and everything changes.

The way Shirley Jackson gradually reveals how the family died and why is skillfully done and keeps the reader eagerly turning pages.  Seeing the world through Merricat’s eyes, we understand that things are not quite how she sees them, but we begin to understand her way of thinking all the way to the sinister and haunting conclusion.

Reader comment:  An anonymous reader gives this book five stars and comments:
This is my favorite book. I love every aspect of it. The characters are so real to me. I think it is their distance from common everday "reality" that makes them even more realistic. If i was able to look deep down inside and write with my purest, truest voice - it would be the voice of Shirly Jackson. I can hardly believe that I wasnt the one who wrote this book. I am Mericat Blackwood. We are one in the same. We see the world through the same eyes. Untill reading this book, I always held a quiet sort of pride in the fact that i was the only one... I used to do some of the same things that Merricat did - like burying things and having secret places and telling myself that if someone said aloud certain words than soemthing else would happen- basically placing all of my faith in superstitions that i invented. Ofcourse, I would never. . .[do one thing Mericat did], but deep down in the very depths of my humanity.. there is a little something that is excited by the thought of it. I admire Shirly Jackson for being able to be so honest. Thats what this book is to me - the first truly honest piece of literature i have ever encountered.

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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