We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Is there anything more exciting and more terrifying than when one of your favorite books (dare I even say, favorite book, full stop?) gets made into a movie? It’s either going to be amazing and wonderful and everything you’ve ever dreamed of, or a deplorable affront to something you love. I’m in the throes of that emotional roller coaster right now, with the news that Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is currently being adapted into a movie -- although I am buoyed by the fact that it happens to be starring one of my current actor-obsessions, Sebastian Stan (you may know him as "the guy who plays The Winter Soldier in the Captain America movies"). As you can imagine, I’m both incredibly excited and highly nervous to see the end product, but in the meantime, it’s a great excuse for me to reread the book for the (redacted)th time.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of 18 year old Mary Katherine (or Merricat) Blackwood and her older sister, Constance. They’ve lived in seclusion in their enormous family estate with their elderly uncle Julian for the last 6 years, ever since the rest of their family was poisoned with arsenic at dinner. Constance was arrested but acquitted for the murders, and ever since, their family has been ostracized from the nearby village. Merricat is the only one in the household who ventures into society for groceries and library books, and whenever she does she’s met with taunts and vitriol. Despite the animosity Merricat feels for their neighbors (she spends a lot of time wishing they would all die), she's very content in her life with her sister, uncle, and cat Jonas. She uses wards and homemade magic to protect them from intruders, but when a ward fails, she knows that change is coming -- which it does, in the form of their estranged cousin Charles Blackwood. Charles is determined to establish himself as the head of the family and draw the sisters back out into society, but Merricat is suspicious of his intentions, and as exposure and calamity inch closer and closer to her carefully safeguarded life, it seems like her suspicions will prove correct.

It’s technically a novella, so it’s a short read, but I swear, every time I read it I discover some new layer to it that I’ve never considered. Shirley Jackson is, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers ever (seriously, even if you didn’t love reading The Lottery in high school, check out The Haunting of Hill House, where she basically invents the genre of the haunted house ghost story). She does American Gothic fiction like no others, and for a book with absolutely nothing supernatural, it’s still deeply, eerily unsettling. Jackson puts forth the idea that the creepiest things in the world are both right in your own backyard while still being nothing you would ever suspect so gloriously and with the best turns of phrase that I’m now banned from reading any out loud to my husband for too many interruptions that start with “Okay but listen to this amazing sentence!” I could gush for many more paragraphs (the English major in me is showing), but I’ll just end by saying that you can find Shirley Jackson’s works, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, here at ELPL.

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