We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – A Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Horror | Classics | Gothic
Published by Penguin
Released September 21st, 1962
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Shirley Jackson is one of those authors whose books I’ve had on my TBR list for years, but never got around to reading. Which is odd, because I adore Gothic horror. Jackson is also the creator of the popular horror novel The Haunting of Hill House, as well as plenty of other similar books.

I had grand plans for my Halloween TBR, but all that ended up not happening when my bipolar disorder took a turn towards a depressive episode and we had to move at the end of the month. I was determined, however, to at least read some spooky books, and since We Have Always Lived in the Castle is relatively short, under 150 pages, it was a perfect choice.

Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson

I feel the need to preface this review by explaining something about my personality: I have very macabre fascinations and a dark sense of humor. I tend to be attracted to books and characters that have dark or nefarious qualities to them.

That personality trait hopefully explains why I was hooked on this book by the end of the first paragraph:

“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 disklike watching myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

What a way to start a novel!

The book is about two sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance, who live in their large ancestral home with their Uncle Julian. The rest of their family died many years previously, and Constance stood trial for poisoning them but was eventually acquitted.

After the death of their family, Constance stopped leaving the house and the townspeople actively started to dislike the remaining members of the Blackwood family, even going so far as to create a macabre song to remind them of the murders:

“Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

The small family keeps to themselves until things begin to change with the arrival of their cousin Charles. Eventually, there’s a haunting confrontation between the sisters and the townsfolk.

WeHaveAlwaysLivedInTheCastle.jpg
The first edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

One of the most noticeable themes of this novel is agoraphobia, which is a phobia in which a person cannot leave their home and avoids any sort of uncomfortable situation. While Mary Katerine, nicknamed “Merricat,” heads into the town twice a week in order to pick up groceries and library books, Constance hasn’t left the house since the trial for the murder of her family. The sisters are terrified of outsiders and live in a fenced-off world all their own.

I’m not sure if any Stanley Kubrick fans are going to be reading this, but I was reminded of his films while reading this novel. Not due to the story being at all similar to any of the fantastic films he directed, but because of the anti-people cynicism that pervades the entire story.

Many of Kubrick’s films show the darker side of humanity, such as my favorite of his, Full Metal JacketSo many writers and artists strive to show the good of humanity, where people come together in times of need, overcoming prejudices and fears to embrace kindness and cooperation. Like Kubrick’s films, however, Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle displays how terrible people can be. The townspeople constantly heckle Merricat when she’s in the town on her trips to the grocery store, and there’s a particular scene towards the end of the novel where we are shown just how horrible people can be, especially in a mob setting. At its core, this novel shows how communities ostracize people deemed to be “other” or outsiders, and how it affects those targeted.

We-Have-Always-Lived-in-the-Castle.jpg

In more modern times, fiction has embraced mental illness, showing the struggles of sufferers and focusing on how people overcome these sometimes debilitating conditions to live the lives they desire. This novel, however, shows two sisters who live without treating their mental illnesses, and how their conditions are exacerbated by a hateful community and a lack of resources. It was fascinating to see this other side of mental illness displayed in a novel.

I read this book in less than 24 hours, and I know that this is going to become not only one of my favorite books of all time but one that I’ll read over and over again. The mystery and atmosphere of the novel combined with its themes and characters left such an impact on me that I’ve been almost constantly thinking about it since finishing it. It’s also inspired me to start reading her other works, which I’ve already reserved at my library.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Shirley Jackson’s final published work before her death three years later in 1965. It’s a masterpiece of a novel to go out on, and a book that will stick around for decades to come.


Have you read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or any of Shirley Jackson’s other works? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!




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Ghosts of Berlin: Stories by Rudolph Herzog – A Review

Ghosts of Berlin Rudolph Herzog

Ghosts of Berlin: Stories by Rudolph Herzog
Originally published in Germany under the title:
Truggestalten
Translated by Emma Rault
Published by Melville House
Released in the US October 8th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion. 

Author Rudolph Herzog is best known for his BBC/ARD documentary about humor in the Third Reich, which he also turned into a book called Dead Funny (which I will definitely be reading). If I’m not mistaken, this collection of short stories is his first foray into fiction, and he did a damn good job.

Rudolph Herzog.jpg
Rudolph Herzog

Ghosts of Berlin is a collection of macabre and strange tales set in Berlin. The stories include a man meeting a strange woman older than she appears with some interesting dietary habits, a ghost from the time of the Berlin Wall, and a bizarre man who seems to never age and enjoys riding people (yes, literally. Like, on their backs).

It’s quite difficult to describe these stories without giving too much away. There are elements of horror and surrealism, but they’re usually slight; the type of element in the story that leaves you with more questions than you started with. It’s artfully done, however, and I finished each story wishing for more while still being satisfied with what I’d been given.

At its heart, Ghosts of Berlin is a collection of stories placing people from today with the ghosts of the past, and it’s wonderful. I know the style won’t be for everyone, but if you are a fan of slightly unusual ghosts stories and subtly creepy tales, you won’t regret reading Herzog’s book. I’m certain that I’ll be re-reading it.


Have you read any of Rudolph Herzog’s books? What are your favorite books originally published in Germany? Let me know in the comments!




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Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman – A Review

Snow Glass Apples Neil Gaiman

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Colleen Doran
Retellings | Fantasy
Published by Dark Horse
Released August 20th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Many readers of this blog will know that Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. I love the whimsy and darkness that permeate his stories. I had never heard of this Snow White reimagining before it was re-published by Dark Horse back in August, but the cover art immediately caught my eye.

Neil_Gaiman_01

Snow, Glass, Apples is a reimagining of the Snow White fairy tale, where the step-mother isn’t the evil one, but the young girl, Snow White, is. I love that this is a horror-reimagining of the fairy tale, something I’ve never seen done before. The story was delightfully dark and twisted.

As wonderful as Neil Gaiman’s writing for this was, however, the art by Colleen Doran stole the spotlight. It’s gorgeous. I’ll be buying a physical copy of this before long just so I can look at the artwork whenever I want to. It’s perfect.

If you’re looking for a Snow White story with a happy ending, this isn’t for you. It’s very dark, there’s no happy ending, and the story involves vampires. For example:

“If it were today, I would have her heart cut out, true. But then I would have her head and arms and legs cut off. I would have them disembowel her. And then I would watch, in the town square, as the hangman heated the fire to white-heat with bellows, watch unblinking as he consigned each part of her to the fire. I would have archers around the square, who would shoot any bird or animal who came close to the flames, any raven or dog or hawk or rat. And I would not close my eyes until the princess was ash, and a gentle wind could scatter her like snow.

I did not do this thing, and we pay for our mistakes.”

It probably won’t happen, but I would love to see this story turned into a film or television show.

If you like Neil Gaiman or dark fairy tale reimaginings or just amazing art, definitely pick up this book.


What is your favorite Snow White retelling or reimagining? Let us know in the comments!




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White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – Book Review

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

“Dear Miranda Silver,
This house is bigger than you know! There are extra floors, with lots of people in them. They are looking people. They look at you, and they never move. We do not like them. We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away. This is the end of our letter.”

The Book
White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Goodreads
Author’s Links: Website

What it is
Miranda Silver, her twin brother Eliot, and their father live in a haunted bed and breakfast across the street from a field of unmarked graves. The Silver House is the ancestral home to the Silver women, who appear to linger in the unseen portions of the house. Outsiders are unwelcome, particularly people of color and immigrants, and the house uses its mysterious supernatural attributes to get those people to flee.

Much of this book deals with Miranda’s mental illness. She suffers from pica, a disorder that causes her to hunger for non-food items, her favorite being chalk. She spent time at a clinic for her disorder while in high school, and we ride back with her to her home after she’s picked up by her father and brother. The scene in the car is a distinctly awkward one, and Eliot seems particularly uncomfortable and quiet.

The family is also grieving the loss of Miranda’s mother, Lily, a photo-journalist who was killed in Haiti when the twins were sixteen. Miranda wears a watch with its time set to “Haiti time,” and feels some guilt about her role in her mother’s death, despite being in Dover, England as it happened.

Miranda is accepted into Cambridge, where she meets Ore, a young woman adopted from Africa, and they find themselves in a romantic relationship. Ore tells Miranda a story about the soucouyant, a monster that leaves its body to consume the blood of the living. The folklore of the soucouyant is reflective of Miranda’s relationship with Ore, as Ore transitions from healthy to nearly anorexic while they’re together. Miranda is literally sucking the life out of Ore.

When Miranda’s father becomes aware of how bad her health has become while away at college, she is brought back home until she can get better. Ore comes to visit her, witnessing some unsettling experiences while there, and confiding in the housekeeper and cook, Sade.

Miranda grows sicker, and we then see the influence the house has on her, culminating in Miranda’s disappearance.

What I Loved
I’ve never read a book like this, and I’m honestly quite unsure how to classify it. Most often I see it listed as a horror novel, but, although it does contain many elements of the supernatural, it feels more like magical realism to me.

So many of the spooky happenings in the house are ambiguous and intentionally left unexplained. I enjoyed that aspect, as it reinforces the overall tone of the book and leads to the reader feeling unsure and a bit spooked.

One of the most unusual aspects of the book that I enjoyed is that the house itself is a narrator of the story at times. To be honest, the house is just as much a character in the story as the Silver family. It has its own personality, although that personality is a very racist and evil one.

What I Disliked
There are side stories in the book that are left hanging, and it was frustrating at times. The best example involves Kosovan immigrants that are being murdered around town, with no suspect in custody. Miranda is confronted by a classmate who accuses her of being involved in the murders, as they believe she’s been seen with the victims prior to their stabbings.

“We saw you,” the second girl said. “You and Amir, you and Farouk, you and Agim, you and whoever. Then they end up getting stabbed.”

Aside from a run-in with Agim, the attacking girl’s cousin and one of the victims who survived, we don’t learn much more about their stories. However, I feel like we’re meant to understand that their murders are related to the Silver house, as we also read in the book that Miranda greatly favors her great-grandmother, Anna Good, whose ghost or spirit is still possessing the house. Referred to as “the Goodlady” throughout the novel,  Anna Good, whose husband died in the war, loathed “outsiders” and blamed them for her husband’s death. Is it possible Anna Good is the cause of those murders?

There are also some awkward allusions to flirtings with an incestuous relationship between Miranda and Eliot. I can only remember two references, but it felt pretty unnecessary to the story.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Buy. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read more than once.