Sunday 16 October 2022

AudioBook Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, narrated by Bernadette Dunne

We Have Always Lived in the Castle We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Previously I have only ever read Shirley Jackson's famous short story The Lottery and I promised myself that one day I would read her novels.

The first thing that struck me about Mary Kathleen was her age. 18! Never! She's a child. A child with OCD at the very least. The second thing that struck me was just how well Shirley Jackson showed that character. I loved the touch of humour, its honest craziness was wonderful. 5* on character portrayal. Made my think of the Adams Family. The characters just leap of the page and some of the scenes are incredibly visual eg when Uncle Julian is showing Mrs Wright round the dinning room.

"“Madam.” Uncle Julian contrived a bow from his wheel chair, and Mrs. Wright hurried to reach the door and open it for him. “Directly across the hall,” Uncle Julian said, and she followed. “I admire a decently curious woman, madam; I could see at once that you were devoured with a passion to view the scene of the tragedy; it happened in this very room, and we still have our dinner in here every night.”
"“Alas,” Uncle Julian said. “Then, on either side of my brother, his daughter Constance and my wife Dorothy, who had done me the honor of casting in her lot with mine, although I do not think that she anticipated anything so severe as arsenic on her blackberries. Another child, my niece Mary Katherine, was not at table.” “She was in her room,” Mrs. Wright said. “A great child of twelve, sent to bed without her supper. But she need not concern us.”

The choreography of it is superb. As it is in the scene of the girls escape from the burning of house. I am intending to watch the movie version and I hope it translate well, although I know for me the actor playing Uncle Julian is nowhere near frail or old enough to match my impression of him from the book.

I agree Mary Katherine is not your traditional unreliable narrator because act actually what she sees is she does so with incredible clarity - she sees through Charles immediately. I listened to the audio which was well read by Bernadette Dunne , and I noticed that at the point where she starts the first the narrator slowed down as if to emphasize Mary Katherine's thought process in action. I'm not sure whether if I had just been reading the text I would or would not have put that sway to it. I'd be interested to hear how those of you just reading the text saw that episode - did she do it deliberately or just clumsily?

I am left unsure of why both women are such damaged characters. Was Constance an agoraphobic only after the trial? What caused Mary Katherine to be so? If we believe Mary Katherine did the poisoning knowingly then what caused her to be so disturbed at an age before the deaths? I've listened to the link Dan supplied and still feel she is less a 'witch' than a stumbling child using the burying of trinkets as somewhat of an extension of the "Step on a crack, break your back / step on a line, break your spine" chants we all heard in childhood as a means of establishing order in what she perceives as a chaotic world, establishing her safety zone just as Constance establishes her by never leaving the house.

And why does Uncle Julian keep asking whether it happened or not? It here I suppose is the poisonings nothing anything else. His moments of coherence and moments of incoherence/forgetfulness, staged and not, make him unreliable or more reliable? If anyone is living in an alternate reality it is Constance with her food fetishes, cooking frenzies, and hot flushes for Charles.

The ending needs consideration as well. Here the alienated sisters have returned into their new decrepit half destroyed safe zone, shored up by vines and hidden behind cardboard and junk, seeing the real world only through a peephole. What minimal contact they had had with the outside world dwindles away until they become the ghosts of other's childhoods. It is in many ways a very sad ending - and oh that last phrase "Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.” The mad women have sequestered themselves away; and they will be happy there until they die; and when they die, no one will ever know.

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