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We Have Always Lived in the Castle cover art

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

By: Shirley Jackson
Narrated by: Bernadette Dunne
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Summary

Shirley Jackson’s deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family takes readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, macabre humor, and gothic atmosphere.

Six years after four family members died suspiciously of arsenic poisoning, the three remaining Blackwoods—elder, agoraphobic sister Constance; wheelchair-bound Uncle Julian; and eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine, or, Merricat—live together in pleasant isolation. Merricat has developed an idiosyncratic system of rules and protective magic to guard the estate against intrusions from hostile villagers. But one day a stranger arrives—cousin Charles, with his eye on the Blackwood fortune—and manages to penetrate into their carefully shielded lives. Unable to drive him away by either polite or occult means, Merricat adopts more desperate methods, resulting in crisis, tragedy, and the revelation of a terrible secret.

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 normalcy itself.

©1962 Shirley Jackson (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic reviews

“At certain moments, quietly, in quick, subtle transitions of tone, Miss Jackson can summon up stark terror, make your blood chill and your scalp prickle....To all the classic paraphernalia of the spook story, she adds a touch of Freud….” ( New York Times Book Review)

What listeners say about We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An oppressive dream - or is it real?

Why do the villagers hate the Blackwoods? Why does Constance never go out? Why was the sugarbowl washed out? This is a story full of mystery and you can never be sure what is real or imagined. Is Merrycat alive? How old are the sisters? What is Charles really up to?
I will need to read this again just to try and get a handle on the story but I suspect I will just encounter more mystery.
This is a stunning piece of American Gothic and has been perfectly narrated by Bernadette Dunne.
This is for lovers of magical writing that gives us more questions than answers and takes you into a world you will not forget.

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9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Dreadful- in a good way

So well done listening to it made me feel close to a panic attack. A brillantly realised portrait of a paranoid state.

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8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Strange but utterly mesmerising

What a wonderful and intriguing read this is. So dark and from the full throated American Gothic tradition, this is spooky and puzzling in equal measure. It's a bit like seeing the world from Boo Radley's PoV, if he were a strange little girl. You're never sure what's real and what isn't, and the imagery within is both domestic yet utterly surreal. Love it.

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5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Unusual story and writing style, captivating.

Not terror, not a thriller, not a whodunit, but a tale about isolation and herd culture with elements from all of those genres. Shirley Jackson’s surprisingly beautiful prose really brings the feeling of being out of touch with reality to the reader.

I understand it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d recommend giving it a try for the originality of the plot and the rich, multi-layered characters and scenes. The reader does an outstanding job of voicing Merricat’s alienated view of the world.

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3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Amazing title, shame about the story

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

If it had lived up to the title. I mean, it didn't have to be literally set in a castle. I get that titles can be metaphoric, or designed to capture a vibe or whatever. A brilliant example of this is "Let the Right One In".

What was most disappointing about Shirley Jackson’s story?

The story was about unlikeable people talking drivel and doing stupid things.

I came to Shirley Jackson through the film version of The Haunting of Hill House (the proper film, not the stupid remake). It blew me away, but it was years before I could find a copy of the novel, so my impression of it was probably a bit biased.

Anyway, I was expecting Castle to be a bit sinister and creepy, with an explicit supernatural element - rather than the tedious "was it all in her own mind?" thing. Instead it was just endless descriptions of what they were growing in the garden, what they're cooking, and what the silly little girl thinks it's like on the Moon.

Oh, and there was some stuff about poisoning that completely failed to engage my interest.

Have you listened to any of Bernadette Dunne’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No. I actually have Hill House on my MP3 player - I bought it thinking I might like to revisit it in unabridged audio form - but haven't played it yet.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. And, oddly, I found my love for Hill House lessened. I've heard of this happening before - a lot of people found their love for the original Matrix film diminished by the time they got to the end of the trilogy.

Any additional comments?

It would be nice if we could re-review books. I might try this again in a year or two and find my opinion completely changed.

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2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A lot of potential but no real pay off.

I had high expectations for this book but by the end I was a little dissapointed. The story didn't seem to go anywhere and I felt a lot was left unanswered in a sense of 'why' certain characters did certain things. I thought it was a great first person narative exploring the weird thoughts of the protagonist and I would have loved more of this. I still enjoyed the book overall though. It's maybe one for me to revisit as the concept is pretty cool.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Simply superb

Excellent in all areas. Slightly mad bonkers moving and sad
A story of love protection and forgiveness

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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Irritating - emporer's clothes?

It's going to be hard not to plot spoil - but without giving you the detail - you constantly get the feeling that there are some big '6th Sense' twists in here that will appear towards the end - well I'm afraid there aren't - it's just a ridiculous, irritating story that doesn't add up.

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1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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bit boring

I wouldn’t recommend as I felt it didn’t have a direction as a book and had a very repetitive storyline.!

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Eerie in a good way

Almost poetic. I didn’t realise this book was written in 1962! What a great archetype for other Gothic works to follow. I look forward to researching Jackson’s other books.

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