Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publication Date: October 2006
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Source: Library

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is the odd, but enthralling, story of two sisters living with their uncle after the rest of their family is poisoned at dinner. The story is narrated by Mary Katherine Blackwood, the younger of the sisters. She is the only one of the family to venture into the village where she must endure the taunts of the townspeople. Things change drastically for Mary Katherine when cousin Charles comes for a visit and exerts his influence over Constance, the older sister.

I don't always read the introductions to books but in this case I'm very glad that I did. Knowing that Shirley Jackson is the author of the short story "The Lottery" gave me a little better idea of what to expect from this story. I really knew nothing about it when it was chosen as the December selection by the Reading with Tequila Book Club on Goodreads. While the author's name clearly didn't stick with me, I do remember reading "The Lottery" in high school and the impact the story had on me. If you haven't read this short story, I highly recommend it!

I'm honestly not quite sure what to say about We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story, as Mary Katherine tells it, drew me in completely even though it seems that very little actually happens. I do not think the story would have been nearly as interesting if another of the characters had told it. Being in Mary Katherine's head and seeing how she thinks about her situation is exactly what makes the story so compelling. The other characters seem a bit flat but I think that is because we only see them as Mary Katherine sees them and she is quite wrapped up in her own vision of the world.

As far as what actually happens in the book, it isn't much. While there are a few key events, the girls' situation at the end of the story is very similar to the beginning. Their dependence on each other has only increased along with their self-imposed isolation. The strength of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is in the characters and the writing rather than the plot. Had it been written in another style or by another author, I do not think it would be nearly as successful in capturing the reader.



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