Cool Covers of the Week AND Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

After the cool covers, my review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson

Always late to jump on the bandwagon, this one has been reviewed a lot in the blogosphere…

During the past month or so, I kept seeing these great Penguin covers on blogs across the Interwebs. I believe Penguin (in the UK at least) is using this general design for a range of modern editions, but the ones I kept seeing were for Shirley Jackson titles. Unfortunately, the copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle that I stumbled across at a charity shop was an ugly American edition (as opposed to an ugly-American edition). For some reason Penguin thinks that we Americans can’t handle good graphic design. (Of course they may be right, but that is the subject of another post.) Despite its lame cover art (see below), I bought the book anyway. I figured I needed to discover myself what all the Shirley Jackson hubbub was about.

The only thing I knew about this book before I read it, was that it was a bit macabre, something good for Halloween. So I picked it up this weekend to see if I would get scared. At a slim 214 pages, WHALITC does manage to build quite a bit of suspense. I am glad I didn’t read the plot teaser on the back of the book. It wouldn’t have spoiled the book by any means, but not knowing the premise made the narrative all the more suspenseful in the opening chapters. The book opens with Mary Katherine (aka Merricat) Blackwood running errands in the small village near her family’s estate. But it is soon clear that, for Merricat, running errands is more like running a gauntlet. She goes about her business rather skittishly, hoping no one will notice her, plotting her route to have as little contact as possible with the townsfolk. Frankly, it reminded me a bit of when I was in junior high and would plan my day, in and out of school, so as not to come within shouting distance of anyone just waiting to call me a fag. And like my junior high days, Merricat is only partially successful in avoiding the teasing and vituperations cast her direction.

As the story unfolds we learn that Merricat lives an isolated life with her sister Constance and their invalid Uncle Julian. We also learn that Merricat is highly superstitious, burying objects all over their property and silently incanting “magic” words in the hopes of keeping them all safe. It isn’t long before we find out why the Blackwood’s are so isolated from society. Even though the back of the book would tell you, I am not going to. You will have to read it. Even once their secret is out to the reader there is much that is mysterious and just plain weird. The climax is brought about by the appearance of a long lost cousin whose presence threatens to upset the order of things for Merricat and presumably the others. Some things aren’t as they seem, but you wouldn’t be alone if you guessed ahead of time what secret still remained hidden.

At its essence WHALITC is a family drama with quirky characters, lots of dark secrets and denial, and an angry mob thrown in for good measure.

Ugly cover:

12 thoughts on “Cool Covers of the Week AND Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  1. claire November 2, 2009 / 5:38 pm

    Lol. That is indeed one ugly cover. I'm addicted to the new UK Penguin Modern Classics myself. Luckily we have some of those available here in Canada. For the rest, there's always The Book Depository. :D


  2. Art November 2, 2009 / 6:08 pm

    Yes, but the others are lovely. I always thought being a book cover designer would be a great job.


  3. Paperback Reader November 2, 2009 / 6:15 pm

    Ugh, what a horrible cover! Have you seen the other US cover, with the black and white image of a scary looking family on the front? That was in fun.

    I have a Penguin related post coming up this week.

    I found the cruelty of the townspeople in WHALITC very unsettling; as you testify to, we have all experienced some form of bullying in our lives to an extent (nowhere near as callous as yours, in my case).


  4. Thomas November 2, 2009 / 9:30 pm

    Claire: I am kind of addicted to all things Penguin.

    Art: Not only do I think being a book cover designer would be a great job, and even though there are so many great ones out there, there is still so much room for improvement.

    Paperback Reader: I did see that other US cover when I was trolling around today doing Google image searches. I can't wait to see your Penguin post.


  5. Rose City Reader November 2, 2009 / 11:37 pm

    There is an even uglier cover that I've seen on several blogs. But that one is pretty bad, especially compared to the British version.

    I am intrigued by your reading list for the year because, of all the blogs I poke around in, your list is the only one I would gladly adopt as my own. I've also read 90 books so far this year, including a couple that you have read (The Innocent, for example), you have books on it by some of my favorite authors (Penelope Lively, for example), and you have read some of my favorites (Clea, for example). That really makes me want to explore some of the books on your list that I have not heard of or haven't read yet.


  6. savidgereads November 3, 2009 / 12:03 pm

    Thats not the nicest cover is it? I have to say mine isnt the same on as have put on my review today but its not bad. However your cover has the sinister undertone spot on!

    I loved this book so utterly (ad love the penguin covers naturally) and am now looking forward to much more Jackson reads!


  7. JoAnn November 3, 2009 / 12:15 pm

    Now that's an ugly cover! I read this over the weekend too, but have yet to write anything up.


  8. Lucille November 3, 2009 / 2:58 pm

    Yes I quite agree – bad proportions, bad shapes, bad colour and bad typography.

    I've been reading and recommending Susan Hill's 'Howard's End is on the Landing' all over the place. It's about the books in her house, full of wonderful name-dropping anecdotes and the proposal to buy no new books but just to read from her collection for a year. Fascinating.


  9. Thomas November 3, 2009 / 3:35 pm

    Rose City Reader: Maybe we are the same person. Has anyone ever seen both of us in the same room at the same time? :)

    Simon S.: You have the cool freebie that came with The Times right?

    JoAnn: It will be fun to see what you thought of it.

    Lucille: It really is a lesson in bad graphic design isn't it. Like they asked a high school student to do it.


  10. Darlene November 3, 2009 / 8:42 pm

    Love your collage of book covers, Akenfield caught my eye so I had a peek on Amazon. Looks like something I would be interested in reading.

    I must be one of the few to have not read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.


  11. Lorin November 4, 2009 / 8:44 pm

    Not at all apropos of what you actually wrote about but I haven't seen those Calvino books before. It would be nice if they released them here.


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