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

Publisher: Penguin Classics Deluxe

Pages: 160

Release Date: First published in 1962


Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.


I wanted this book basically because of the creepy looking front cover (seriously, it’s hauntingly beautiful) and the intriguing title. I didn’t really have a clue what it was about or know anything about the author, but I was very excited when the in-laws got it me for Christmas.

This is an odd little book – I’m not really sure how else to describe it. It did take me a little while to get into it. It’s quite slow to start as it builds up the character of Merricat and her relationship with the villagers. Merricat is a rather creepy narrator, almost addictive in her voice: the more you read of her, the more you get wrapped up in her strange little world of ritual and magic and childishness until you are completely absorbed by her. Then it doesn’t matter what terrible things she says or does – how the villagers deserve to die, or destroying someone’s possessions – because you are on her side completely.

This is a different kind of horror story for me, one based in subtleness rather ghosts and bumps in the night. It comes in Merricat’s words and the way Uncle Julian recounts every detail of ‘that night’, the way the three are stuck in their routines and the way the villagers chant their creepy nursery rhyme at them and torment them as their world falls apart. I imagine this isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for a bit of a different classic to read then I’d recommend giving this one a try.


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