We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson | Book Review

Wednesday 11 November 2020


    Shirley Jackson is a legend in the literary world. She's also considered a classic horror and mystery novelist, predating modern masters like Stephen King and Ruth Ware. But how well does her work hold up? Here's my review.

    Lets start with the premise. Mary Katherine Blackwood (Merricat) lives with her sister Constance and their ailing Uncle Julian. Constance hasn't left the house in six years traveling no farther than the garden on the estate. Merricat only goes into town once a week for supplies and deals with the hostility from the townsfolk. Years ago everyone in the Blackwood family died by poisoning except Merricat, Constance, and Julian and the three live their sheltered existence until one day their cousin Charles shows up and everything changes. 

    I hated everyone. No I'm not just being dramatic. There were no characters I could even pretend to like. The towns people were awful  in the now stereotypical way of "old timey ignorant folk who hate anything different or spooky." The uncle was senile so he gets a bit of a break but his character just got old by the end of the book. He's like that person you know who only has one story to tell and tells it over and over and over again. Constance had something like anxiety with a side of agoraphobia so she kind of gets a pass except when it comes to Merricat where she's the pure definition of enabler. Charles was an ahole and has a lot of nerve just showing up and trying to take over and that leaves us with Merricat. The most annoying, airheaded, foolish, character I've ever read. Any one of her aspects could have made for an interesting character but everything combined was just too over the top. Her use of "sympathetic magic" could have been cute but instead it was annoying. Oh no! The hat I nailed to a tree fell off, now we're no longer safe! I better burry some silver forks in the garden if we're going to make it through! I think if I had read this when I was younger I would have liked it more. I think I would have found Merricat to be quirky and cute but adult me just sees her as a brat who is never called on her crap. 

    I'll be honest, I would probably have DNFd this book if it wasn't so short and it would count towards the Halloween readathon my wife and I were doing. This wasn't a bad story at all. In fact I liked certain parts of it. The main downside was that I didn't have a single character I liked that kept me coming back for more. The mystery was the only thing that kept me opening the book again and again and even then I was pretty sure I knew what had happened. I was right, but there was always the chance that all the signs I picked up on were just red herrings, which would have been very exciting. But alas, it wasn't.


    The next paragraph has some spoilers so I'll give you a chance to skip it just in case you're worried about spoilers for a book published 57 years ago. Just scroll passed the second gif.

The story was also pointless. Even though a lot of stuff happens, the characters wind up right where they started. The towns people were kinder, but mainly out of fear. The two sisters just live in the now dilapidated house where Merricat continues to live as a spoiled brat. She killed her whole family because she was acting like a child and was sent to her room without dinner. God only knows what would have happened if they were the type of family that spanks their kids. Merricat is a psychopath and a murderer and she never gets what she deserves. In fact, she gets her dream come true. Just her and her sister, alone. So the story had no point and Merricat is awful. The end.

Okay, spoilers over.

    I can see this being a very interesting book back in 1962 when it was published but now it only survives on the name of Shirley Jackson. She's known for The Haunting of Hill House which has spawned various movie retellings and this sits as her second best known work, maybe third if you count The Lottery. But it just doesn't hold up. It's not bad, but this should only be read by people who are huge fans of 60's gothic fiction fans. This book has nothing going for it and I really wished I liked it. I had been wanting to watch the movie with Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Crispin Glover, and Sebastian Stan, but now I'll only watch it if my wife wants to.

We Have Always Lived In The Castle gets a 4.5 out of 11

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