I bought We Have Always Lived in the Castle with the intent purpose of reading it during the Halloween season. I’m going to go deep into the plot of this story so if you don’t want minor spoilers, maybe skip it. Going into this story, I was expecting a little bit of a gothic ghost story, but what I found was more of a story about eccentric young women. This wasn’t a bad thing per say but I didn’t really completely connect with the story because I didn’t feel any empathy towards these two characters. Mary is the youngest sister, an eighteen-year-old that acts more like she is 10, extremely spoiled, and a little bit of a brat. Constance, her older sister, is a nervous recluse, caused by the deaths of most of her immediate family members during a dinner. As you can see from my wording, I didn’t really care for Mary, whom Constance called Merricat.
It isn’t really fair of me to judge a story based off of my dislike for a character but I had a hard time ignoring Merricat. Jackson sets up the beginning of the story for us to have empathy with Merricat because she is being bullied when she goes into town for a food run. A lot of the people in town don’t like Constance, Mary, and the house they live in because of the deaths that occurred there and the way that family separated themselves from the town’s people. I soon find out that Mary has a vivid imagination and likes to play make believe in the yard with her cat. I’m starting to like Mary at this point but I’m waiting for the more supernatural reveal to happen. We meet the uncle that is an invalid that lives with Constance and Mary, and I can’t help but think that guy has some weird stuff going on, maybe he’s a ghost!
When a cousin comes to visit and tries to take over the house and get Constance to change, Mary gets upset and wants her way. This is when I realize that the crazy/gothic part of the story is actually Mary. Her actions against the cousin are completely preposterous, a destructive force of a bratty girl, that is actually 18. There is a really weird scene where the upstairs of the house catches fire and basically, the entire town shows up to watch the fire. The firemen put the fire out but the entire town, including firemen, watch as people break windows and furniture in this house, and no one says, “Hey stop this.” I found this really hard to believe that there wasn’t anyone in authority or in a position of power to stop the destruction of someone’s home, regardless if the town hates them. Anyway, the story progresses into Constance and Mary becoming even more reclusive and weird after this.
Yah know, I liked this story, Jackson is a good writer, and this has some great dialogue. I sometimes can be too analytical when I read stories like this and that hurts my enjoyment. This is definitely a story you will have a reaction to, good or bad. I will never forget Merricat/Mary as a character. This is without a doubt one of those stories that will get better with time as I dissect what Jackson is trying to say. The whole thing just kind of leaves an unsettled feeling that causes you to think the book over, wondering if you missed some important meaning or metaphor. At times, these are the type of books that will stay with you, and you will reread.
14/25 Possible Score
2 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – Setting
4 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect