We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Posted December 16, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Horror / 0 Comments

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley JacksonTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Goodreads)
Author: Shirley Jackson
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Published: Penguin, 1962
Pages: 146
Genres: Horror, Classic
Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Blackwood sisters, Constance and Merricat (Mary Katherine) try to live an idyllic life with their uncle Julian in their big New England house. The villagers surrounding them hate them and often chant hurtful words. The Blackwood family were once much bigger, but one meal changed it all. Arsenic in the sugar served with dessert killed the rest of the family, Constance never had sugar, Merricat was sent to her room before supper and Julian only had a little sugar and is now a shell of his former self. Despite the fact that Constance was arrested and then acquitted of this crime, the rumours still run wild and the Blackwoods live their life in seclusion, that is until Charles arrived and tried to steal the family fortune.

While We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the first Shirley Jackson I have read, it was in fact her final novel. I went into this book knowing nothing about the story and I found it the perfect way to experience the novel. An American gothic that is in part a haunted house story, in part a mystery, and as Jackson’s biographer Judy Opphenheimer calls it a “paean to agoraphobia”. A psychological story that explores the effects of rumours and public opinion, all told from the perspective of eighteen year old Merricat, who is an unreliable narrator.

There is a real mystery about the Blackwoods, but I was more interested in the effects the villagers had on the family. I know the isolation is a reflection of the author’s own agoraphobia and nervous conditions but I took it more as a look into social issues, essentially the effects of rumours and speculation. I cannot help but compare the book with Frankenstein. This is the beauty of fiction and the way people all have different perspectives on the same piece of literature.

I found both Constance and Merricat to be wonderful characters, they are both strong and at times unlikeable, while being mysterious and complex. Merricat has to be one of the best narrators found in literature; I never could fully understand her and she often surprised me. She is likeable but I could never trust her completely. She was an enigma and as the novel progressed and secrets revealed, I really appreciated the way Shirley Jackson crafted these characters.

There is a fine balance between the morbid and the whimsical to be found in We Have Always Lived in the Castle; it is poetic and haunting. Discovering Shirley Jackson came at the perfect time, I read this book during Halloween and I eagerly await next year to read another one of her novels. I know I could read Jackson at other times, but I do think her writing suited Halloween perfectly. I know The House of Haunting Hill is recommended, but I would love to know which of her other books should take priority.

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