Merricat has been living with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian in her parental home, ever since her parents died. All she wants is to preserve the status-quo. However, from the moment Constance was acquitted from the charge of murdering the other members of the family, the people from the village have not been able to leave the sisters alone. Some taunt them, others are curious, and some even come to visit. Nevertheless, Merricat and Constance seem to be able to ignore most of the outside world in their devotion to each other. However, when cousin Charles arrives things change: in his romantic overtures towards Constance and his constant eagerness to gain access to the family vault, Charles seems to threaten Merricat’s position in the house. And so, Merricat is on a mission to restore equilibrium to the house.
I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle on an autumnal Saturday evening, with candles lighted, on the couch cuddled under a blanket, and accompanied with a cup of tea. It was the perfect atmosphere for the book. I can’t recall whether it was the kind of stormy weather that we’re having now, but it certainly would have fit.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle has an eerie quality. As such, it makes for perfect RIP reading. The whole book has a gothic atmosphere. With Merricat’s visit to the village, and her later meetings with people living there, comes the realization that it is in part the hostile atmosphere of their neighbours that provides a feeling of discomfort. However, in part, it is also Merricat herself, and her descriptions of life at the house. From the start you know that something isn’t quite right, but it is only slowly that you come to realize just what is wrong. Perhaps it is the very fact that the family life portrayed is taken for granted, while the reasons for the possible murder of the other family members are constantly hinted at but never fully revealed, that makes this book so powerful.
But there is more, I think, that makes his book work. For that, I cannot help but cite the line that I am sure everyone mentions and thinks of when they write or recall this novella, and that is the song the villagers sing whenever they encounter Merricat or the sisters:
“Merricat, said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?”
“Merricat, said Constance, would you like to go to sleep?”
“Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.”
The power of that taunt is in the fact that you instantly know the melody and the tone at which the villagers would have pronounced those words as a reader. There really is something so familiar, so instantly recognizable, about this idea of a strange family, and neighbourhood bullying. And I think that might be what struck me the most about We Have Always Lived in the Castle; the circumstances are extreme, and perhaps even a little bit otherworldly, but some of the content is so very realistic, that it becomes all the more disturbing.
I cannot end this post without mentioning the fact that I am so very glad to have finally read this book. Moreover, I really really liked it. Its atmosphere, its setting, its characters, and its eeriness are all so very convincing. And yet, they did not produce any nightmares (another personal achievement for me). I cannot wait for another year of RIP, and another book of Jackson to read.
When I finished We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I instantly got on twitter to tell the world how much I had enjoyed it. In response, Chinoiseries mentioned that she had it on her pile for RIP VII. And so we agreed to review it together. Are you curious what she has to say about the book? Click over to her lovely blog. Later, I found out Kristi also reviewed it on the same day! You can find her post here.
Other Opinions: Can be found at the Book Blog Search Engine [I will edit them in later]