Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
narrated by Bernadette Dunne
5.5 hours

Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, her sister, Constance and, their uncle, Julian live reclusively in the Blackwood family home. Exactly why this is so is the story's ostensible raison d'etre; but in realty the story showcases a number of recurrent themes in Shirley Jackson's writings that reveal the darker natures of ourselves, barely hidden by the thin veneer of daily life. Each of the Blackwoods adopts a tenuous hold on civilized life by narrowly defining their roles in the household. Merricat's quotidian routines involve heavily ritualized and superstitious behavior that enable her to function in and beyond the perimeter of the estate. Constance, a young woman in her early twenties, assumes the maternal role of cook, and caregiver to Uncle Julian; but she never goes beyond the garden borders. Uncle Julian, wheelchair-bound, spends his days writing and revising the family history, hung up on the chapter that fully explains what exactly happened that one night that lead to their present situation. Their neighbors in general, tease and bully Merricat; but don't actually touch or harm her. The listener realizes that there is something wrong , sensing the undercurrent of tragedy and the shadows of secrets among the Blackwoods. There is a tension built upon not knowing why the Blackwoods live such a circumscribed existence and, a certain anxiety as the listener watches the veneer being stripped away. And then there is the horror as the truth is revealed. To write unflinchingly of what is true is no task for the weak or for cowards; it is a task for masters such as Shirley Jackson. Ms Jackson wrote fiction and; wrote scenarios that defy credibility in a realistic context; but what she wrote of in terms of human psychology and dynamics is undeniably true and; there is the horror.

Bernadette Dunne narrates We Have Always Lived in the Castle perfectly. Her character voices reflect the artifice of their civilized lives, the calming and reassuring words and platitudes uttered to keep the monsters at bay, as well as the chaos as the story explodes into a night of terror. Dulcet tones, childlike simplicity and, good natured teasing are delivered with the artifice that each character warrants; but the dark creepiness is never far from the surface.

Other Stuff: I borrowed a library CD edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle from the Blackstone Audio, Inc.

This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at


  1. I really enjoyed reading WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE last year, I'll have to try an audio reread at some point.

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