We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Finished reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle a few days ago but didn’t want to review it immediately because I wanted to have a think about it.  That isn’t a negative by the way.  I really enjoyed it and it was a compelling read.

WHALINC tells the story of the  Blackwood Family who live on a large estate in New England and just a short stretch from a nearby village.  As the story unfolds we learn that the majority of the Blackwoods died 6 years earlier as a result of using sugar laced with arsenic.  The remaining three members of the family live together in the family home and the villages harbour a deep resentment towards them, thinking that one particular member of the family has gotten away with murder.

The story is told by Mary Catherine, or Merricat, as she is known.  Merricat is 18 years old although it is sometimes quite easy to lose sight of this fact and to think of her age as nearer to that of a 10/12 year old.  The remaining members of the Blackwoods are Uncle Julian who survived the arsenic attack but is very frail and now uses a wheelchair and Constance, Merricat’s older sister who was tried and acquitted for the murders.

I would start by saying say that this story is beautifully told.  It’s easy to envision everything that the author describes and yet she doesn’t labour the point.  Her writing is simple and evocative.  We look at this small family living almost in a dreamlike state in the ways of bygone years.  They have a simple and almost idyllic existence, secluded away from all others – apart from the occasional intrusive visit that they suffer from one of their own ‘class’ trying to offer the hand of friendship (but more often than not displaying a sort of vulgar curiosity) or the weekly trip to the village made defiantly by Merricat as she goes to collect provisions.  I say defiantly because each visit is received with ill-disguised mistrust at best and downright hatred at worst.  The villagers have no hesitation in making their feelings known.  They don’t like this family and more so they harbour deep resentment for what they believe to be a miscarriage of justice.

The three main characters are easy to like on initial contact although a bit puzzling.  Clearly one of them is a murderer?  And yet there is no recrimination or judgement.  Constance is almost angelic, looking after Julian and Merricat whilst smiling lovingly and indulgingly at whatever antics Merricat may get up to.  She tends her garden, grows and preserves produce and cooks for the family who still cling to their traditions -such as eating in the dining room where the terrible crime played out.  Uncle Julian survived the attack but not unscathed.  He’s weak and his memory is not good – he, in fact, sometimes thinks that Merricat also died during the poisoning.  And then we have Merricat.  As I mentioned above I think you could easily be forgiven for thinking Merricat is much younger than her 18 years.  She has a wild and slightly out of control character that at first comes across as part of her childish charm but eventually starts to develop into something a little darker.  Merricat seems to believe she is a witch of sorts.  She practices burying things to create magic and believes that she keeps the family and estate safe from intruders by a number of ‘wards’ she has placed about the grounds.  Plus, not to forget her trusty familiar, Jonas the cat.

However, Merricat’s wards are about to be tested when Cousin Charles comes to visit.  Suffice to say that whilst one sister is pleased with the visit the other is not.  Things quickly become ugly and events start to spiral out of control.

I won’t say anything more about the rest of the plot.   I enjoyed the book very much.  It was completely intriguing and compelling.  It was also a little bit puzzling – although not in a bad way.  I think that anybody who reads this will probably put two and two together fairly early on in terms of who actually committed the murders so it’s not trying to be a mystery or for that matter a thriller.  It’s more of a chiller.  Basically, we have the two sisters and the way I see it is one of them wants to live a quiet existence with just the two of them and whilst that seems a creepy sort of thing to say it’s also obvious that both sisters love each other.

Okay, being careful about what I say is not really helping this review.  I think you just need to read the book.  It’s very thought provoking – even the conclusion which was almost like a fairytale ending.



11 Responses to “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson”

  1. TBM

    I like to take time to think about a book before I review it…and I’m a procrastinator so a win win! I think I recently saw this one in the library or store and wondered about it. And since you say i should read it goes on my list.

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s one of the recommendations I picked up from Carl’s RIP event which made by tbr pile even bigger! Trying to catch up with them all. Currently reading The Yard – a detective novel set in London just after Jack the Ripper.
      Lynn 😀

  2. RealBooks4ever

    I have been wanting to read this book for YEARS! Too many titles, too little time! 🙂

    • lynnsbooks

      I know! And more books keep coming out. It’s like being a child in a sweet shop! Everybody wait, stop writing, let me catch up. LOL
      Lynn 😀

  3. Marie

    This book seems to be enjoying something of a revival recently, I have seen so many reviews of it cropping up on my favourite blogs! It seemed to be a popular creepy pick for RIP VII. With every review I read it gets bumped higher up my wishlist.

    • lynnsbooks

      I picked it up fro RIP. It was really good – very difficult to review without giving anything away – I’d love to really talk to someone properly about what was going on!
      Lynn 😀

  4. jessicabookworm

    I thought this book was deliciously creepy. Your review has made me really want to re-read it now.

    • lynnsbooks

      I know, it was so difficult to write a review that wouldn’t give everything away.

      Spoiler ahead –

      Merricat – what a brilliant creation, starts off so innocent but then has such sinister and devious thoughts!

      Lynn 😀

  5. “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson with the ever so strange and maybe a little bit sinister Merricat […]

  6. TTT: Top 10 favourite novellas/short stories | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – this is a fantastic story.  Brilliant. […]

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