Tuesday, 16 March 2010

This is the second Shirley Jackson novel I have read (the first being The House on Haunted Hill) and thus far she has not disappointed me. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of those rare gems that seems to transport you to another world effortlessly. I have seldom been so absorbed by a book. Especially one which does not appear to be popular although the reason for this escapes me entirely.

At the beginning of the book we meet Mary Katherine Blackwood (known by her family as Merricat) a strange, dark, daydreaming, 18 year old girl who lives with the remaining members of her family in an old house on the outskirts of town. From the outset of the book it is obvious the townsfolk hate the Blackwood family and apart from Merricat no-one else from the family ever ventures outside. Six years before the beginning of the book most of Merricat's family were murdered and the culprit was never brought to justice. The murders happened in the same house they live in now which only adds to the intriguing and unsettling nature of the story.

The four central characters are wonderfully written out although not always likeable. The character of Charles, the unwelcome cousin, is delightfully repulsive and devious. Constance herself is a troubled character; forced by circumstance to become the head of the family at the young age of 22. Uncle Julian is a survivor of the murder attempt but it has left him wheelchair bound and suffering from what appears to be the onset of dementia. He is often confused but also has remarkably lucid moments. There is a surprising amount of humour in the book most of which comes from Julian. He is brilliantly irreverent and always speaks his mind.

One of the most interesting parts for me is to see a story from the outcasts point of view rather than the frightened townsfolk. It put me in mind a little of stories like 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and the film 'The Burbs' both of which contain social outcasts as main characters with the main difference that these stories focus on the point of view of the outsiders looking in as opposed to the hermits looking out.

The story ends in an unusual way which I wasn't quite expecting. Once I had thought about it for a while I decided I liked the ending. Haven't we all been in a situation where we would love to shut out the outside world even for a short while? I know I have and this book speaks to that part of me.

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Chris


  1. I read this book a couple of months ago and loved it. My mom and I read the second half out loud to each other, which only made it more wonderfully strange. I am definitely glad to see a positive review for We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as everyone else I know seems to think it was "too weird".

    P.S. I found your blog via the "Introducing Yourself" topic in the Book Bloggers on Shelfari group (on Shelfari, of course). Hola!

  2. Hi Zara

    Thanks alot for your comment, I know exactly what you mean about the book, lots of people i've met don't appreciate it but I think it's a masterpiece.

  3. I adore this book. Read it in junior high, when I was absolutely primed for the strangeness of the story (and was inexperienced enough not to see the end coming). Shirley Jackson is always worth reading around Halloween; the atmosphere of so many of her books and short stories is weird, disturbing, and very much like certain childhood games of tag--where a mad hysteria takes hold of your mind and you realize you absolutely MUST NOT be touched by the child who is It, or you will die.