Thursday, April 25, 2013

Classics Challenge (#3)

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.

First published in 1962

(info grabbed from GoodReads)

This was one of the books on my Classics Challenge list that I was super excited to read.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle is as a beautiful, albeit slightly disturbing, example of American gothic literature, with Merricat a shining example of an unreliable narrator.  As many others have pointed out, the opening to the book speaks much louder than what is simply on the page.
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.
Right off the bat, we get a sense of the off-kilter way Merricat thinks, and it doesn’t slip for a moment in the book.  While reading, you get this odd nonsensical feeling and a clarity of what is her sanity.  What makes this book such a gem is that we do see the world from her eyes whereas that would be completely lost if the novel was written in third person.

The reason We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a great book for aspiring Young Adult writers to read is because it has an exemplary use of the unreliable narrator.  The unreliable narrator is extremely common in young adult literature today -- anytime a book is in first person, this is used as the reader is limited to what the narrator is seeing/doing/thinking.  In Young Adult, the focus tends to be on relating to characters, which is why first person is ideal as it is easier to grow empathetic and relate when you are reading through their eyes.

Final Thought: “I-could-have-been-a-werewolf” out of 5 toadstools


  1. I've never heard of this book, but it sounds awesome!

    1. It is! I tried not to gush about Shirley Jackson as a writer but... she is brilliant. The end.