Book Reviews

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

It may not be October just yet, but it’s officially fall. Which means, to me at least, that it’s time to read everything spooky, scary, weird, and harvest themed. I started my journey with a reread of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not my typical light flavor, but a gothic novel told in a unique voice that’s worth the read.

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Merricat and Constance Blackwood, along with old Uncle Julian, are the only Blackwoods left. Together, they live in seclusion on the family estate after a horrible incident involving an ingestion of arsenic killed the other members of their family. Uncle Julian, being too ill to go anywhere and Constance, borderline agoraphobic, leave Merricat to do as she pleases throughout the day. Routine is important to her, so aside from neatening the house and burying protective talismans in the yard, she goes into town twice a week for groceries and library books. Merricat does this while imagining different ways the cruel townspeople who taunt her and her family die.

One day, Merricat “feels a change coming, and no one knows it but me.” Her cousin Charles comes to call, with plots within plots but too stupid to carry them out smartly.

Truth be told, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is extremely fascinating. It’s told to us in real time by Merricat, but she is a most unreliable narrator. Seemingly stunted in development from the time of her family’s murder years ago, we can’t quite tell if what’s she’s telling us is how the story actually unfolds. She’s very imaginative and child-like, believing in magic and making up games and rules for herself, but clearly unbalanced.  My personal favorite way to look at her is as if she’s a ghost herself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s