Hmmm. I think I ruined my own experience of this one through my own past knowledge of it: I’m pretty sure I haven’t read it in the past, and yet, I was already aware of all the plot points once it started rolling. Beyond that, I suppose, there are the characters, but even they were totally disaffecting to me. There is a finely-crafted and unsettling mood around everything which works incredibly well in this story and it’s unfolding, but I felt like I knew exactly where it was coming from and the characters themselves were pretty predictable in my eyes.
This is all to say, going into this story not knowing is the best way to do it, otherwise you may be asking yourself, “is that it?” because the short notes of it are really the whole thing in the end: it’s a novel without any extra unnecessary fat to trim, so therefore any knowledge beforehand leaves little to be discovered beyond the mood of the whole thing. It’s kind of like how I felt about the movie The Beguiled: acutely crafted atmosphere and setting, but what else? Where is the plot? What are the characters beyond this surface level? I saw the ads and there felt like so little was added in watching the film beyond the mood.
In any case, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a short novel about a young woman named Mary Katherine (or Merricat, as her sister calls her), living with her sister Constance, and their old Uncle Julian in a small town. These three are the remaining members of the family after a tragedy a number of years ago killed the rest, and the survivors of this incident are all now outcasts from the small community, instead living their own little routines, largely confined to their inherited estate.
Now, so far I’ve mostly said my dislikes of this novel, but really it has to do with my own experience of it. On an objective level, Merricat is an intriguing unreliable narrator, that is still fun despite there clearly being something odd about her. The only problem is the many large, easily identifiable clues left behind in her narration which leads to there not being much development of slow reveal of her character: she is unsettling, yes, which adds to the fantastic mood of the novel, but I found her very easy to read and clearly presented right from the get-go.
There are also some intriguing themes present, largely through the interactions of the town and the family, the idea of otherness and how mob mentality can lead to certain treatment of others, always following what everyone else does. This, I would say, was the strongest aspect of the novel for me, but in the end not enough to increase my feelings towards it.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle certainly has its strengths, but I just couldn’t be moved by it at all, in the end. I can see where it shines, it just didn’t work for me, and I felt like I was just kind of going through the motions in reading it, following a story I somehow already knew, though I’m not sure where exactly I heard it before. Que será será.