Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Back in October I tried to read The Haunting of Hill House and was severely bothered by the outdated feel and dialogue. I gave up after about 20 pages. I decided to give Shirley Jackson another try with We Have Always Lived in the Castle and am so glad I did. This quirky, macabre novel was a pleasure to read and contemplate.
Merricat (Mary Katherine) Blackwood, her sister Constance and their Uncle Julian live a routine, reclusive life in a big house on the outskirts of a hostile village. Years before, Constance had been acquitted of murdering the rest of the Blackwood family and now they are ostracized, hated and feared by the villagers. Merricat narrates the novel and from the beginning we know that she is not your typical eighteen-year-old. Her behavior and opinions are childish and she relies on superstition to predict events and protect her family. The plot eerily creeps along with Merricat telling of the arrival of a long-lost cousin and the escalation of fear among the villagers that leads to a chilling ending.
Jackson masterfully produces a unique and creative story by using restrained language and a matter-of-fact tone. Her characters are all mentally crippled in one way or another, but she doesn't judge them - she just lets the facts speak for themselves. I appreciated this aspect of her writing. I also enjoyed her subtle sense of humor, a trait that is surprising in such a bizarre novel. This is definitely a book that will stick with me for a while.

Don't Take My Word For it:


  1. I'm so glad you liked this one. It's so simple but so effective, and it takes's a very special author to do that.

  2. I've been wanting to read this for a long time but have never got round to it. I like quirky, unusual books so I think I'd probably enjoy this one!

  3. Helen, if you like quirky then this is the book for you!

  4. Okay now that's really interesting - I read The Haunting of Hill House in 1999 and I felt like it was outdated and cliched. I didn't realize it was 50 years old - I thought it was modern - so I hated the book. After realizing it was a classic and reading (loving) this book, I thought I'd go back and reread Haunting next year during RIP season. Now reading this, I wonder if my original instincts were accurate...