Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


I’m back with another 2017 book review! I decided to go with a classic for my second read of the year and went with the iconic Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This is my first experience reading any of Jackson’s work, and I was not disappointed! This book also counts as my “J” entry in the Litsy A to Z challenge.

Shirley Jackson is best known as a horror writer, which is why I haven’t read her before. Horror really isn’t my genre, though I have read some of Stephen King’s work (I mean come on, he’s Stephen King!). I really wanted to expand my reading horizons this year so I decided to go with Shirley Jackson’s most famous title. I think this is also being made into a movie this year?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is narrated by eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood or “Merricat” as she is commonly called. Mary Katherine lives in almost complete isolation with her older sister Constance and their ill Uncle Julien. The town has shunned the family since the rest of the Blackwood family (their mother, father, brother and aunt) were poisoned with sugar laced with arsenic. Constance was tried and acquitted for the crime but they have become an urban legend, with songs created by the townspeople to taunt them for the crime. Constance does not leave the house, only Mary Katherine dares to enter town twice a week to buy food.

Something that really struck me in this novel was how young Mary Katherine and Constance act. Constance often says “Silly Merricat” and seems to ignore anything difficult. Mary Katherine buries things and has several superstitions that she follows to protect her and her sister. She even has a feline sidekick, Jonas, to whom she speaks to like he is human. The three remaining Blackwoods live in their own detached world until their cousin Charles visits.

Charles only wants to take advantage of their money and old family heirlooms but only Mary Katherine sees his true nature. She goes on a mission to stop him, no matter how much damage she causes to succeed.

The prior poisoning looms in the book, but you never get a full explanation on what happened. I understand that this is done intentionally to add an eerie tone and it is successful. But I really wanted to know why they were poisoned and why these two women really didn’t care. But I was terrified of the Blackwood’s at the end of the novel, just like the townspeople. Such an engrossing read.



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