Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We Have Always Lived in the Castle / 978-1-4417-3428-0

My husband and I purchased this audio book to listen to during a long car drive. The audio book quality is good - the solo narrator has a solid voice and decent changes and inflections when she voices the multiple characters. For some reason, her voice reminds me a little of Maria Bamberg, whose voice talents I deeply enjoy. For the overall story, however, we were nonplussed - this isn't really a creepy story, or a character-propelled story, or indeed a story where much of anything happens at all.

For one thing, despite the tease on the box that there will be a "revelation of a terrible secret", this is not a suspense story. The "terrible secret" of the murderer's identity is completely obvious from the first few chapters - both my husband and I came to the same correct conclusion about 45 minutes into the reading. So if you're coming to this for any sense of suspense, you'll leave disappointed, because there is never any suspenseful buildup and never any kind of meaningful resolution of the events behind the murder. Annoyingly, the identity of the murderer is pretty much the ONLY thing the reader will learn about the murder mentioned on the blurb - outside of the initial who/what/where/when exposition dump in the early chapters, the backstory is never fully developed or explored. A few tantalizing hints are dropped of potentially interesting side elements - the family feuds, the suspicious age differences, and the abusive politics at play that have left all the surviving members of the family so broken and shattered - but none of these elements are developed and they all feel tragically wasted. Despite several situations seeming ripe for one, there's no real "twist" here to reward the reader - with the murderer known to everyone (including the reader) from the get-go, and with no ghosts (real or metaphorical) to appear and/or vanquish, all the reader is left with is the slow slog to the finish line. The only real character "development" to be had here is limited to an extremely tame and vanilla spiral into further agoraphobia - and it's just not enough to carry the reader to the finish line.

Listening to this novel, I realized that this is one of those stories that English majors often encounter - a story where the critical commentary (particularly the ones with Epileptic Tree theories) is far more interesting than the actual story itself, because the critical commentary can delve into those tantalizing potentialities that the actual story refused to develop. I can see how, if I'd been assigned this in my English major days, I'd appreciate this book more - it's short, sweet, and to the point - but as a read-for-pleasure novel, I feel that it failed us. I understand that a lot of people truly love this novel, and to each their own, so take this dissenting viewpoint with however many grains of salt.

~ Ana Mardoll

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