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We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
by Shirley Jackson

Published: 2006-10-31
Kindle Edition : 162 pages
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18 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members
Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects ...
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Introduction

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiousity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

Editorial Review

Visitors call seldom at Blackwood House. Taking tea at the scene of a multiple poisoning, with a suspected murderess as one's host, is a perilous business. For a start, the talk tends to turn to arsenic. "It happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night," explains Uncle Julian, continually rehearsing the details of the fatal family meal. "My sister made these this morning," says Merricat, politely proffering a plate of rum cakes, fresh from the poisoner's kitchen. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson's 1962 novel, is full of a macabre and sinister humor, and Merricat herself, its amiable narrator, is one of the great unhinged heroines of literature. "What place would be better for us than this?" she asks, of the neat, secluded realm she shares with her uncle and with her beloved older sister, Constance. "Who wants us, outside? The world is full of terrible people." Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic, burying talismanic objects beneath the family estate, nailing them to trees, ritually revisiting them. She has made "a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us" against the distrust and hostility of neighboring villagers.

Or so she believes. But at last the magic fails. A stranger arrives--cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune. He disturbs the sisters' careful habits, installing himself at the head of the family table, unearthing Merricat's treasures, talking privately to Constance about "normal lives" and "boy friends." Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods. The result is crisis and tragedy, the revelation of a terrible secret, the convergence of the villagers upon the house, and a spectacular unleashing of collective spite.

The sisters are propelled further into seclusion and solipsism, abandoning "time and the orderly pattern of our old days" in favor of an ever-narrowing circuit of ritual and shadow. They have themselves become talismans, to be alternately demonized and propitiated, darkly, with gifts. Jackson's novel emerges less as a study in eccentricity and more--like some of her other fictions--as a powerful critique of the anxious, ruthless processes involved in the maintenance of normality itself. "Poor strangers," says Merricat contentedly at last, studying trespassers from the darkness behind the barricaded Blackwood windows. "They have so much to be afraid of." --Sarah Waters

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

Suggested by Members

Who do you believe is the murderer when this part of the story unfolds?
Describe your response and reaction to the towns people and their actions toward the girls?
Did the big family argument really happen? Or was this just all in her head?
by KittyTwist (see profile) 01/05/15

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

by KittyTwist (see profile) 01/05/15
Don't forget to include the sugar bowl and berries!
by christinemcarlson (see profile) 10/03/12

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "We Have Always Lived in the Castle"by KittyTwist (see profile) 01/05/15

This book made for a wonderful book club discussion. It is rich with fascinating characters and events, and Jackson - as always - has woven a thrilling tale. Details, atmosphere and description all draw... (read more)

 
  "A Twisted Tale"by lisjanemon (see profile) 10/16/13

An atmospheric novel that delves deep into the lives of the Blackwood family in their isolated estate and the surrounding villagers.

 
  "A great halloween book club pick!"by christinemcarlson (see profile) 10/03/12

Everyone loved this pick, and it yielded some great discussion.

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