We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley JacksonI enjoyed reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson last year and her final novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ published in 1962 three years before Jackson’s death tells the story of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood who lives with her older sister, Constance, and their uncle, Julian, on a large secluded estate in New England. Six years earlier, half of the Blackwood family including Merricat and Constance’s parents were poisoned when the sugar bowl used at dinner was laced with arsenic. Although Constance was acquitted of the murders, the three surviving Blackwoods remain isolated from the rest of their small village. However, the arrival of their cousin Charles threatens their future and Merricat becomes increasingly suspicious of the real reason why he has suddenly turned up out of the blue.

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ doesn’t feature the supernatural elements which were central to ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ but the novels definitely share a disturbing and unsettling atmosphere of ambiguity, dread and weirdness. In particular, Merricat is a fascinating character and an unreliable one. On the cusp of adulthood and deeply affected by past events, she appears to be naive in some respects but also very knowing in others and the matter-of-fact bluntness of her tone as a narrator makes it easy to forget that some of the more alarming details she reveals are as twisted and shocking as they are.

Since her acquittal, Constance has become agoraphobic never venturing further than the garden while Julian is an invalid with dementia who obsessively recounts the day of the family tragedy, leaving Merricat to manage the household herself and face the whispers of gossiping villagers whenever she goes out shopping. The small-minded prejudices of their neighbours and superficial concerns of their cousin only increases the Blackwood family’s desire to be left alone. While the identity of the real poisoner is no surprise, the conclusion is odd and unexpected – a fitting ending of sorts if there can be such a thing for the Blackwoods.

I think I enjoyed ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ more while reading it but ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is a brilliant evocation of the fear of the unknown and has been lingering in my mind since I finished it. I’m planning to read some of Shirley Jackson’s short stories in the near future as well as Ruth Franklin’s biography about her life.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

  1. Great review of a great book! Shirley Jackson is such a master. I haven’t gotten to her biography yet but it’s on my list, hope to see your review of it at some point.

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  2. jennifercameron1

    Love this book but it has been a while since I read it. I think it must be reread soon. Excellent review.

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  3. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages.

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  4. I keep meaning to read more by Shirley Jackson; I only ever read her story “The Lottery,” in high school. Lizzi R. from These Little Words recommended this for my first longer work by Jackson to read over Halloween. I’ll have to see if I can find it at a library.

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  5. I loved this book. Merricat is such a wonderful creation.

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  6. Wow, this sounds like an interesting read. Should I have read The Haunting of House Hill before reading this?

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  7. Hi, I loved Shirley Jacksons ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ a wonderful suspense horror/thriller. Very hard to find a good horror story that is intelligently written and plays superbly on suspense. I love Shirley Jacksons writing style and element of the unusual in her work, for that reason I might try this book. Loving your blog.

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  8. Sounds like a good read and i don’t do scary

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Arushi Sharma

    This sounds an interesting novel. I am definately going to read this one. Thanks!!
    http://www.booksoul.in/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Someone I follow was hilarious about We Have Always Lived… saying it was so hammy and corny, and it is a tiny bit predictable, but I think it’s more memorable for things not being completely unexpected – it just evokes very thoroughly a feeling of unease and of differentness.

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