We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [Review]

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley JacksonUnfortunately I couldn’t find an image of the 1960’s version, which was the only copy my library had, and which was last checked out in 1977! So I’ve gone with the newest UK edition, which has just been released.


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 Plantagenent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.


If you haven’t had the chance to read this one then, beware this review will touch on spoilerish details, it’s almost impossible to talk about the book and not do. I’ll quote the publishers blurb first, as a spolier-break!

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.

First off, this is the most damn disturbing book I’ve read in along time, and in so many ways as well, not just for the story as unfolds and spills it’s secrets, but also for the way you begin to care (and sometimes root) for people you really, really, shouldn’t.

The story opens with the quote above, with Mary Katherine (Merrikat) starting to tell the story of why her family is dead.

The truth takes a long time to discover, and bit by bit, while we do, we are drawn in to Merrikat’s world. Truth being subjective thing, as Merrikat is not the most reliable narrator, and it’s obvious from the start, things are not quite as she would like us to believe.

Even when the ‘truth’ is revealed, and even though you will have suspected it for a while, you will still have a little shudder.

The rest of the characters are just as bad, Uncle Julian, is obviously a fruitcake, and really not aware of the ‘real’ world. Cousin Charles is just a gready b*stard only out for what he can get, (interestingly he is probably the only truly sane person in the book, but you don’t really notice this at the time, as he is a thoroughly dislikeable chap, and you do find yourself siding with Merikat about him.)

Even Merrikat’s sister, the one the villagers believe to be guilty of carrying out the heinous crime of murdering her family, and the only ‘good’ character, is clearly agoraphobic and only just clinging to her sanity.

This is a book that is incredibly uncomfortably to read, but yet you will. Oh yes you will.

Creepy, disturbing stuff.

Buy, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

19 thoughts on “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [Review]

  • Pingback: A Reading Year in Review 2009 Pt2 | Bart's Bookshelf

  • December 9 at 4:31 pm

    I loved this.
    Just wanted to let you know I quoted you in my review. Hope you don’t mind. 🙂

  • October 25 at 1:05 am

    This is my favorite of Shirley Jackson’s novels and one of my overall favorites. So glad to see people reading it. You’re right…this is the perfect time of year.

  • October 13 at 7:50 pm

    Great summary of one of the creepiest stories ever.

  • Pingback: TSS: Changing Plans | Bart's Bookshelf

    • October 3 at 10:25 pm

      Well if we all liked every book, this blogging lark would not be half as much fun as it is!

  • October 2 at 1:49 am

    Thanks for the link! And yes, this book was really disturbing. When the truth was “revealed” about Merricat, I was like, “Well, yeah, I totally figured that one out,” but I was also like, “I really wish I had been wrong about that one!” Ugh. And I still can’t get over how cruel the neighbors are. Get a life, people.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Donors Choose =-.

  • October 2 at 1:18 am

    This book is high up on my to-buy list after I had read the other book, The Haunting of Hill House a few days ago!! I love Shirley Jackson’s writing style!!!

    • October 2 at 6:17 pm

      Have to say, I’m very tempted by The Haunting of Hill House, now!

  • September 30 at 4:45 pm

    Wow, great review! I’ll be adding this to my TBR list.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesdays =-.

  • September 30 at 2:24 pm

    Glad you enjoyed this! I love unreliable narrators, and Merricat is a particularly fine example. I really need to get a copy of this (with the good cover of the two girls) before the movie comes out and I can’t get anything but movie tie-in editions.
    .-= Jenny´s last blog ..Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman =-.

  • September 30 at 1:48 pm

    Ooh, I like creepy disturbing stuff. And yet I haven’t read this. I think perhaps that should be remedied soon.
    .-= Court´s last blog ..The Sandman: A Game of You =-.

    • September 29 at 11:54 pm

      Yeah, that’s the cover I’ve seen the most often, and it does suit the book well.

      The one I read, was orange and basically all typography. Very 60s!

    • September 29 at 11:00 pm

      creepy and damned disturbing! 😉 Thanks for the rec, back in last years RIP challenge.

  • September 29 at 9:50 pm

    Interesting….well you certainly got my attention! What better time of year to delve into a truly creepy book than October (well, it’s almost that time…) with Halloween coming up! Adding to my “seek-out” list for further investigation. Thanks for the insite with your review! (Good job!)
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..So this is Love?: Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon =-.

    • September 29 at 11:03 pm

      It’s the perfect time of year to read it!

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