Lindsay Heller's Reviews > We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Oct 12, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, gothic-nouveau, dysfunctional-families, reread, 2016, book-club
Read in October, 2016

I read this book back in 2012 and it was likely one of my first Goodreads reviews. I gave it three stars. This time around, propelled by my book club otherwise I doubt I would have read it again, I elevated the score to four stars. Because, when it was announced as October's pick I exclaimed "Oh! I love that book!" But, did I? Only three stars? I consider that a good score, but... this book really stuck with me. How could it not? It's one of the weirdest, claustrophobic, affective books I've ever read.

I've given a brief synopsis in my original review so I won't bother. This time around several things struck me. #1 I remember Merricat being younger, because she acts younger, her being so old, is sort of terrifying. She clearly needs mental help. That she never gets. Constance is, at best, an enabler and at worst insane herself. I thought because of these views I would be more on Charles' side this time around. But, no. He's still an a-hole. The villagers, who bothered me so much before, are the only ones who I understand now. They give in to hysteria and heresay, but in the end I felt real contrition from them. Along with eventual folkloric fear.

As for plotting, timing, and atmosphere, Shirley Jackson is a master.

In The Haunting of Hill House there's a passage where two characters are investigating a sound or something and one mentions that they are holding hands, the other informed her that they are not. End of chapter and it's never brought up again. She's a master.


How to review this book. It's difficult. I'll begin by saying that I am mostly unfamiliar with Shirley Jackson's work, save 'The Lottery' which I read in eighth grade English. But, I mean, that's the sort of story that really sticks with you so I thought I had to explore Jackson a little more thoroughly. Why I picked this instead of 'The Haunting of Hill House' is basically due to preference; I have a penchant for rich people living in crumbling houses apart from the rest of the world. Which is, essentially, what this was about.

Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood lives in her ancestral home with her sister, Constance, invalid uncle Julian, and cat Jonas. Every week she ventures into the nearby town for groceries and library books despite the fact that the townsfolk hate the Blackwoods. Perhaps due to the fact that six years ago, nearly the entire Blackwood crew was poisoned by arsenic in the sugar bowl. Constance was arrested of the crime but eventually acquitted. The three live relatively isolated until a cousin, Charles, enters their lives. Merricat is immediately distrustful, but is the danger she perceives real or another part of this strangely Blackwood way of life?

The first things is the characters. They're all exquisite, especially Merricat. I wish we'd had more of them. Really, because the length of this book made it so very little development went into the characters. They ended up sort of one dimensional. I was able to project things onto them, but I am not sure if that's what was intended.

Also, I really needed a solid reason why the townsfolk hated the Blackwoods so strongly. I mean, this wasn't just annoyance at their wealth or fear in their mythology, this was hatred on such a high scale that it made absolutely no sense. I would have liked a reason.

But, the book really was very good. A difficult novel to review, but I thought it deserved one.
1 like · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

10/05 marked as: read
10/05 marked as: currently-reading
10/12 marked as: read

No comments have been added yet.