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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

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Shirley Jackson’s beloved gothic tale of a peculiar girl named Merricat and her family’s dark secret

Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. This edition features a new introduction by Jonathan Lethem.

146 pages, Paperback

First published September 21, 1962

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About the author

Shirley Jackson

299 books8,098 followers
Shirley Jackson was an influential American author. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson.

She is best known for her dystopian short story, "The Lottery" (1948), which suggests there is a deeply unsettling underside to bucolic, smalltown America. In her critical biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman notes that when Shirley Jackson's story "The Lottery" was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, it received a response that "no New Yorker story had ever received." Hundreds of letters poured in that were characterized by, as Jackson put it, "bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse."

Jackson's husband, the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, wrote in his preface to a posthumous anthology of her work that "she consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands and be the pundit of the Sunday supplements. She believed that her books would speak for her clearly enough over the years." Hyman insisted the darker aspects of Jackson's works were not, as some critics claimed, the product of "personal, even neurotic, fantasies", but that Jackson intended, as "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb", to mirror humanity's Cold War-era fears. Jackson may even have taken pleasure in the subversive impact of her work, as revealed by Hyman's statement that she "was always proud that the Union of South Africa banned The Lottery', and she felt that they at least understood the story".

In 1965, Jackson died of heart failure in her sleep, at her home in North Bennington Vermont, at the age of 48.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 21,940 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 4, 2023
Bizarre, strange, haunting, sinister, disturbing, twisted, foreboding, suffocatingly claustrophobic, leaving you with the ever-growing sense of unease. What else can I say about this book to give it justice?

This is a chillingly terrifying story that has nothing to do with the things that go BUMP in the night. No, it's the odd terror that comes when things go BUMP in the mind. And the most terrifying things are those that are left unsaid, that creep up at you from behind the printed lines, just hinted at and left for your own brain to chillingly realize.
“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-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Behind the events of the story is the mystery of the Blackwood family, rich New England landowners who are quite well-aware of their presumed class-snobbish superiority over the inhabitants of the nearby village; the family which is in turn met with distrust, fear and even hatred - not quite unfounded, actually. You see, six years ago half of the members of the Blackwood family were poisoned by arsenic in their food. Three are left: Uncle Julian, left crippled by the poison, hanging on to the remnants of his mind, obsessed with the tragedy of the day of the murder; Constance, an agoraphobiac trapped in the narrow confines of her domestic universe, cooking for the remnants of her family with a strained chirpy attitude - a young woman who was also the cook on the day of the fateful arsenic poisoning and therefore is considered the poisoner in the eyes of the villagers; and Mary Katherine, Merricat, the narrator of the story, now eighteen, who was sent to her room without dinner on the day of the poisoning, who now serves as a link between her diminished and scorned family and the rest of the world.

For a careful reader, the identity of the poisoner is really very easy to figure out after the first few pages. The psychological impact is never about the identity, it's about the implications of it. And that's what gives it a real punch.
“I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”
This strange little family survives without ever deviating from their strict routines, remaining shut off from the outside world until one day an unexpected arrival threatens the fragile stability - of the family and of Merricat's mind. And the events that follow lead to the scariest and saddest ending presented in the most chillingly subtle way possible.
“I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain of dying. I would help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs.Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true."

Our narrator, Merricat Blackwood, is not a character you can easily forget. She is written with such skill, with such vividness, with such persuasion that the pages come alive with her bizarre voice of a seemingly adult woman forever trapped in neverending childhood, in the world of twisted magical reality of strange rituals and special objects and strict routine that can never be changed, or else.
"On Sunday morning the change was one day nearer. I was resolute about not thinking my three magic words and would not let them into my mind, but the air of change was so strong that there was no avoiding it; change lay over the stairs and the kitchen and the garden like fog. I would not forget my magic words; they were MELODY GLOUCESTER PEGASUS, but I refused to let them into my mind."
And the scariest thing of all to me was how more and more enthralling Merricat's voice became with every page, with every minute spent inside her head, until it's hard not to take her side despite all the implications that it carries, despite reason suggesting otherwise, despite knowledge of what's going on. And that's when you realize the magnetic pull Merricat has, holding her little world together in the ways that suit her - little world it may be, but it's wholly her own, steadily holding against anything that can be perceived as a disturbance, an interference, a threat. And the words of her little game in the summerhouse take on a new resonance.
“Bow your heads to our beloved Mary Katherine…or you will be dead.”
I found this book deeply disturbing in its deceiving simplicity, and scarily engrossing - the book written by an oddball ostracized agoraphobiac obsessed with food and trapped in her own little universe by the last years of her life. Shirley Jackson's Constance and Merricat, securely huddled in their own little corner of the world, not accepted but feared and left alone, the heart of legends and superstitions - was it in a way a cry for help or an unattainable dream? I don't know, and I think I sleep better precisely because I don't know.

Unflinching 5 stars and a shudder at the seemingly so innocent of an ending:
“Oh Constance, we are so happy.”

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
September 14, 2020

This book is a masterpiece. It is short and spare and written in crystal clear prose, yet so evocative that it is richer in nuance than most good novels twice its size. It is so good I could kick myself for not reading it years ago, yet so mythic I am convinced I have known it always, like a tragic folktale or a chilling childhood dream. And yet, for all its grimness, it is essentially a comedy: darkly, transcendently, funny.

The Blackwood sisters—28-year-old Constance and 18-year-old Mary Katharine—live in a big old house on the outskirts of town. They are fitfully persecuted by the locals, who are convinced one of them is a murderer: their whole family—with the exception of scatterbrained Uncle Julian—was poisoned with arsenic six years ago. Now the three survivors—along with their black cat Jonas—are living together in deliberate tranquility, when long-lost cousin Charles arrives on their doorstep, barely concealing his interest in the lovely Constance and the Blackwood family estate.

The narrative voice of Merrycat—nickname for Mary Katherine—is perhaps the most distinctive thing about the novel. Deceptively childlike, obsessed with omens, magic words, and lucky days, Merrycat is nevertheless a clear and sharp-eyed observer of the day-to-day events of her world. Her naive shrewdness speaks to us like Huckleberry Finn’s, her quirkiness charms us like Holden Caulfield’s, yet she possesses a distance, a reserve, that is all her own.

Those of you who read novels like autobiographies will find tantalizing tidbits here. The local village resembles Jackson’s North Bennington, Vermont, a place Jackson always felt treated her family as outsiders (college eggheads, Democrats, atheists, Jews) and provided her the inspiration for her notorious early success, “The Lottery." The two sisters were inspired by Jackson’s two daughters, the placid and cautious Constance by Joanne and the superstitious and daring Merrycat by Sarah. But of course Jackson drew on herself for inspiration too, particularly from her fascination with witchcraft and sympathetic magic and her persistent, crippling agoraphobia. And Cousin Charles resembles her husband, in his critical comments about the housekeeping and his continual concerns about money. (Although husband Stanley was a literary critic, his wife Shirley was the literary cash cow of the family, and he once calculated precisely how much money was lost whenever his wife wasted her valuable time composing a letter to a friend.)

Perhaps what I like best about the book—besides the dark humor, and the voice of Merrycat of course—is its sweet and sad conclusion. After the destruction has passed and gone—a climax which reveals the full impact of the novel’s title—we witness a family rebuild an old life out of love, and even glimpse a little human compassion for a change. It is the twilight happiness of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, the kind of happiness Lear and Cordelia might have enjoyed, if they had lived.

Here is the novel’s famous first paragraph, which gives you a good idea of Merrycat’s distinctive voice:

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.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
February 22, 2011
I might be the only person in the world who thinks this book is too weird, senseless, anticlimactic and almost plotless. The characters however are charismatic in their craziness. It's just not my type of crazy.
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews155k followers
December 10, 2020

Halloween is just around the corner and it's time for some spooky books - but which ones are worth your time? Check out this BookTube Video for answers!
What you think you know, you don't

Several years ago, someone poisoned the sugar bowl at the last Blackwood family dinner, resulting in the death of nearly every family member.

Only the two sisters (Merricat and Constance) and their ailing uncle (Julian) remain on the secluded estate but they are not the same as they once were.

Since that fateful day, each remaining member has become... slightly unhinged... much to the gossiping villagers horror and delight.

Merricat has a wistful, gentle insanity; Constance has petrifying agoraphobia; and Uncle Julian is on a loop - constantly obsessing over discovering what happened during the last Blackwood dinner.

Everyone in the village wonders, constantly, which one of them could have done it?

Then a mysterious cousin comes into town - with shrouded motives and a pushy personality.

Merricat decides she must get rid of him before he discovers who killed the Blackwoods but how will she accomplish this with suspicious villagers crowding in at all sides and his own stubbornness to contend with?

Bizarre and haunting throughout - the writing is beautiful and the story is riveting.

I was absolutely swept into this story - I absolutely loved the characters.

Merricat was both chilling and sweet. Constance was almost scarily rigid and yet loving towards her sister. Uncle Julian swung from senile to insane - I couldn't tear my eyes away.

I loved the way the author managed the characters. All of their personalities shifted subtly during the story - each one becoming more and more disturbed, which (of course) sucked me deeper into this story.

I could not find out who was the killer and the more I read, the less I wanted to know.

The ending came upon me like a horror creeping in the night.

This is definitely one I'd recommend!

Audiobook Comments
Read by Bernadette Dunne - she was absolutely perfect. Her haunting voice breathed life into this novel

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
857 reviews5,909 followers
October 18, 2022
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

A cliche in American horror films is to include children singing a song that is seemingly innocent at first, but gnaws at the nerves with a haunting sadism. We watch children, young and naive, signing and spinning in a corn field bathed by an autumn dusk; the cliche works because it is an image that we welcome through our front door for it’s familiar and idyllic pastoral sentimentality only to discover an intangible fear clawing out from within. It’s the murky pool from which the maggots of urban legends crawl forth and every town has one. There is the house on the corner children dare one another to touch, the homeless man we hear bears a horrific curse, the school basement where we are told a student once hanged themselves and still roams about (two of the three existed in my childhood town). Often these legends are purely of the imagination, yet occasionally there is a seed of truth. Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle focuses on the subjects of the urban legend seed, and holds the reader captive in their reclusive reality. The reader however, will not wish to leave this literary bondage and will likely find themselves sitting up flipping pages late into the evening. Two young woman and their ailing uncle are the sole occupants a mansion set off from the town, the sole survivors of a family poisoning that reverberates through the town with rumors and speculative fear. Castle is a chilling late-night walk through the haunted forests of human consciousness, a gripping psychological horror ripping through the idyllic American classic feel of the novel to expose the Gothic terrors that drench the New England landscapes.

We always fear what we don’t understand. What makes Castle work so well is it’s familiarity and it’s warmth, an unexpected aspect to this chilling portrait of misanthropy. The novel humanizes the subjects of the townsfolk’s fear and revulsion, and it does so without apology by not skirting the issues of murder and isolation. Jackson sets the reader into this world without making them feel ill at ease through her style, a familiar embrace of tone and structure which recalls the small town American classics. It seemed to follow the format of a book you would read for high school literature, opening with a riveting first chapter that quickly yet eloquently set all the pieces in play while feeding you exposition hidden in the sugars of plot and leaving you gasping with questions you can’t wait to have fulfilled. Then it is followed by a second, lengthier chapter where an overarching conflict is introduced, typically through a minor conflict in plot where more exposition is unveiled through the banter of characters. It’s this sort of nostalgia for high school classics that immediately opens your heart to the book, but not just in structure but the plot, setting and characters as well. Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is the first to come to mind. Like Lee, Jackson tells her story from the viewpoints of a young, tomboyish girl and wraps her tale within the folds of local politics and society. Here we have Mary Katherine, or Merricat as she is often referred, a girl of eighteen akin to a feral cat. Her and her sister Constance are embedded in the local society, but from a view on high being born into a family of wealthy landowners. Merricat, despite her disgust for her deceased relatives, continues their looking-down-the-nose opinions of the locals as filth except hers is one of violent hatred.
I would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying. I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true.
Merricat’s opening chapter is unabashedly honest, but doesn’t quite read like a confession but more as matter-of-fact. Like a cat—it is fitting that Merricat is always accompanied by a loyal and almost-too-human cat as if it were a children’s novel—Merricat is the sort to look you straight in the eye while she destroys the furniture. Which she will do time and time again out of spite.

"I can't help it when people are frightened," says Merricat. "I always want to frighten them more."

Merricat has many reasons beyond her better-than-thou upper-class upbringing to sadistically sneer at the townsfolk. They hate her and her older sister, reviling Constance for allegedly getting away with mass murder, they hate their family for former wounds caused by the snobbish and cruel father, and they take their disgust out with ridicule. Eventually, as events transpire, the sisters take on a sort of legend for their reclusive behavior and disregard for the company of villagers, being said to eat children among other things. The sisters are a symbolic repression of women and all things not aligning with the social norms of any age, damned into either shame or blissful solitude as rumors take wing and transform into hellish mythical beasts.

Poor strangers, they have so much to be afraid of.

By focusing on the sisters and viewing the world through Merricat’s childish and imaginative mind, we gain a unique perspective on the society. The children signing sadistic rhymes of horror films are in this perspective are the well-to-do well-wishers that feign friendliness towards the sisters. Both sides of this coin are seemingly innocent moments cloaking something sinister. When the disgust of the townsfolk reaches a violent climax, the sisters are further forced out from society towards a perspective that even the legitimate kind gesture must be ignored as to forever remove themselves from such a volatile society.

Returning to the Merricat’s mind, it is her twisted perspective that most brilliantly colors the social portrait. For her any deviation from her comfortable normality is seen as threatening—a parallel to the social standards of the town that see their deviation as threatening—and Merricat feels imbued with magical powers that ward off such demons.
All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us.
An old book nailed to a tree, for example, becomes a totem of power to her. When it falls so does her feeling of security. She is the wild human consciousness repressed, regressed and full of animalistic defensiveness.

It is fitting that Jackson would choose New England as the setting for her novel, a novel that if it weren’t for the mention of cars could be set in nearly any New England era. The novel recalls the witch hunts of the area in all its Gothic sensibilities. What better place for a chilling tale told in the American wilderness. It is also reflective of the obdurate beliefs of a conservative catholic New England that so threatened Jackson and her Jewish husband that Jackson developed extreme agoraphobia.

While out on my delivery route, I listen to a lot of NPR. This fall the Diane Rehm show did a segment on Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, a quintessential literary haunted house novel that I so loved in college. Comically, and much to the chagrin of the guests—two people well versed in the life and literature of Jackson—Ms Rehm openly hated the novel, even sighing when callers would label it as ‘wonderful’ or ‘genius’. At one point, the two guests agreed that We Have Always Lived in the Castle was Jackson’s strongest work of fiction (which places it even higher for them than her short story The Lottery, which is a staple of any American college student’s required literature courses)¹. I immediately made an unofficial stop to a used bookstore I'd recently discovered (I have a least one bookstore for route that I rotate through) and purchased a copy of Castle. It did not disappoint. It was a fine friend to have riding shotgun amidst the landscapes disrobing themselves of their fall colors that passed outside my van windows every day. Castle is an exquisite psychological tale of trauma and terror that your heart is sure to welcome in and grow fond of as it hides it’s dagger behind it’s back.

There had not been this many words sounded in our house for a long time, and it was going to take a while to clean them out.

¹ Guest Judy Oppenheimer, author of Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, added that her favorite of any Jackson book was Life Among the SavagesLiving With the Savages, Jackson’s memoirs about raising children. You can listen to the entire segment here.
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,469 reviews9,632 followers
January 27, 2020
You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine. Is it still in use? You are wondering; has it been cleaned? You may very well ask; was it thoroughly washed?

This book is looney tune. I'm not even sure about some things that happened.

One of my GR friends needs to message me so we can discuss some things on this book. (Of course no one will read this so it's a mute point)

So Constance, Merricat, and Uncle Julian live in the home together with all of their land enclosed. The rest of the family were killed.

Merricat is the only one that leaves to get groceries and books in town where she is picked on by everyone. I loved her macabre thoughts of all the said people being dead. She had a lot of different macabre thoughts through-out the book.

The book was just so strange and I enjoyed that, even though it made me feel crazier than I am!

They had some jerk uncle that showed up trying to find their fortune. I was hoping he was going to meet a macabre end himself. But alas, he did not.

And I'm a bit confused at the ending. Hopefully someone can help me out. Either way, I enjoyed the book

Mel ❤️
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,343 followers
February 3, 2018
My favorite Shirley Jackson novel. A masterpiece of unreliable narration and of the eerie relationship between childishness and horror.

I'm now re-reading this for a December group read, so I thought I'd update this review as I go.

A lot has already been written about the masterful opening paragraph of this book, so I'll focus instead on the opening chapter. It basically involves the narrator, Merricat, walking into town to do some shopping. Sounds boring? It's anything but that. Shirley Jackson uses this mundane task to show the intense hostility between the Blackwood family and the town, as well as to show Merricat's rather unusual character. She's childish and playful: "I played a game when I did the shopping. I thought about the children's games where the board is marked into little spaces and each player moves according to a throw of the dice.... The library was my start and the black rock was my goal." And as she navigates this terrain full of landmines in the form of other people who taunt her and laugh at her, she can't help flashing her own hostility: "They saw me at once, and I thought of them rotting away and curling in pain and crying out loud; I wanted them doubled up and crying on the ground in front of me." Until at last she reaches the sanctuary of her home.

It's a sanctuary that's as much magical as physical: "I had to put down the shopping bag to open the lock on the gate; it was a simple padlock and any child could have broken it, but on the gate was a sign saying PRIVATE NO TRESPASSING and no one could go past that." And then she sees the most important person in her life, her sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian--the last surviving members of her family.


But almost immediately, that sanctuary is violated. Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright come to tea, and we see Merricat fretting over what this will do to Constance, whether she's strong enough for visitors. There's a jealousy in Merricat that reminds me of the jealousy Eleanor has regarding Theodora in The Haunting of Hill House--a subterranean feeling that comes out in flashes of anger, like when Merricat smashes the milk pitcher in the kitchen.

The scene with Helen Clarke and Mrs. Wright is also notable for its comedy--how everyone keeps dancing around the subject of the family deaths, except that Mrs. Wright can't help herself, she really wants to know, and Uncle Julian is more than happy to oblige by giving a guided tour of the dining room. Shirley Jackson has quite a comic touch here, though it's all undergirded by Merricat's ill-feelings toward these visitors and the recognition of the horrifying tragedy that befell her family.


Shirley Jackson expertly ratchets up the tension by having Merricat sense something impending: "A change was coming, and nobody knew it but me." What's wonderful about this is that it raises the tension level even as you wonder whether something really is coming or whether she's just living in her own imagination. It also allows for some domestic scene-setting and banter with Uncle Julian without losing the narrative drive. I love when Merricat chooses three special protective words, thinking that "so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come." She then writes the first word in jam on her toast and eats it--thinking that makes her "one-third safe"!


The change, of course, is cousin Charles, who arrives without much explanation and basically moves in. It's clear right away that he's a gold-digger, and you can sense Merricat's rising anger and panic as he threatens her entire world by threatening to marry Constance. She employs her childish form of "magic" to try to ward him off or get him to leave, but nothing works, sending her spiraling into extremes. It's clear that Merricat thinks of him as the enemy when she watches him walk into town and talk easily to all the townsfolk who've been bullying her. He's one of "them," in her mind, and at that point the battle lines harden.


One of the subtle mysteries of this book concerns the relationship between Merricat and Uncle Julian. My GR friend Nancy first pointed out, in a group discussion, that they don't really interact, except that Merricat keeps saying to herself that she ought to be nicer to him. I thought this was quite a profound insight, so I read the passages again more closely and noticed the same oddity. Uncle Julian says at one point that Merricat is dead, and then when Uncle Julian dies, Merricat hardly seems upset at all. In fact, she seems rather relieved, claiming that now she and Constance can start over again. Clearly there's something odd going on between them. My guess is that Merricat feels jealous of Uncle Julian, that she really wants Constance all to herself. [Spoiler alert to the end] Perhaps this is also a clue to the motivation behind the central crime--that it was really driven by Merricat's jealous desire to have her sister all to herself. Here again I see shades of Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House.


And finally, at the end, Merricat gets exactly what she wants--Constance all to herself. And Constance herself gives herself to Merricat's superior power, gives up any hope of having her own life. She cries as Charles leaves for the last time and says: "Merricat, I am so happy." And Merricat herself echoes this sentiment in the book's final chilling line: "Oh Constance," she says, "we are so happy."
Profile Image for Julie G .
884 reviews2,755 followers
December 20, 2022
I hate you, Shirley Jackson.


I mean, I know you're dead and all, but still. . .

I want to drive to your haunted house in Vermont and throw rocks at your windows.

I want to smash every pumpkin, carved, by your front door.

I want to hold a séance in your bedroom to summon your spirit, then I want to pull those ugly ass bobby pins from your hair, rip those ugly ass dated glasses off your nose and pull that ugly ass cable knit sweater over your face.

And then. . . I think I want to make out with you.

Or make out with this book.

Or something similar and sick.

I'm so confused!

I don't know if I feel love or hate, arousal or disgust.

This book.

I never wanted it to end.

I want to make a giant bonfire out of every shitty, worthless book I've ever read, to provide the light to read and re-read and re-read and re-read this book.

I could wish him dead until he died. I could fasten him to a tree and keep him there until he grew into the trunk and bark grew over his mouth. I could bury him in the hole where my box of silver dollars had been so safe until he came; if he was under the ground I could walk over him, stamping my feet.


Shirley Jackson séance: All Hallows' Eve, Hill House, Vermont (USA). . . Midnight.

Bring your bobby pins, bitches.
Profile Image for oyshik.
212 reviews665 followers
February 4, 2021
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Manipulation, cruelty, and tragic. As this book was Jackson's final work and my first experience with her writing, I enjoyed it. An unconventional horror novel but the story can able to examine people on their relationships, sympathy, separation, greed, and evil. Excellent writing. peculiar story but interesting. Overall I enjoyed it.
I was pretending that I did not speak their language; on the moon we spoke a soft, liquid tongue, and sang in the starlight, looking down on the dead dried world.

Unusual story.
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.6k followers
January 17, 2023
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

I don’t really have a good reason to begin with that quote, other than the fact that I’m obsessed with it. It’s up there with the Boggis, Bunce, & Bean poem from Fantastic Mr. Fox in the global rankings of Creepy Rhymes Chanted By Neighborhood Children In Reference To Nearby Monster-People.

The difference between this book and Fantastic Mr. Fox, besides the hundreds of obvious ones, is that our heroes ARE those monster-people. And not, you know, a group of talking animals so adorable and charming it was legally mandated Wes Anderson had to adapt it into a movie.

Or something.

A similarity between this book and Fantastic Mr. Fox - likely the only one other than the above rhyme - is that both are wonderful.

This is so creepy, and atmospheric, and beautifully written. Reading this is an intense experience, often uncomfortable, oddly addictive, and counterintuitively I felt sad when it was over.

I love Merricat and Constance and Uncle Julian, and their strange rituals and old house and manners of speaking.

Shirley Jackson really said men are trash and that’s that on that.

Relatedly, I have made up my mind to read every Shirley Jackson book I can get my hands on.

Also this cover is gorgeous.

Bottom line: This is very much my aesthetic. (No one correct me on my grammatically incorrect use of the word “aesthetic” - I’m using it in the hip cool slang way. Thank you.)

tbr review

the rumors are true: i did whisper-shout YES to myself when i found a copy of this in a used bookstore
Profile Image for Madeline.
775 reviews47k followers
January 19, 2015
In The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson's group of misguided investigators discuss the idea that some houses are inherently born evil, and are destined to be haunted from the moment they're built. We Have Always Lived in the Castle explores the opposite idea: how a home becomes a haunted house.

One of the many, many fascinating things about this book is the way it could have been approached in a completely different way. It could have opened with someone - a stranger to the village, most likely, who didn't know the story - viewing the ruined Blackwood house. The house stands by itself behind a fence, and the townspeople still tell stories about the family who lived there once, and what happened there. The only ones who approach the house are children, on a dare, who run up to the front steps and sing, "Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me." The stranger asks around about this apparently-haunted house, and eventually, through flashbacks, its entire terrifying history is revealed.

Another writer could have easily tackled We Have Always Lived in the Castle in this way, and the book would have been just as good. But Shirley Jackson is no ordinary horror writer, and she approaches the story of Blackwood House, and the people who lived there and made it what it was, in a straightforward way. She tells the story as it happens, not as a flashback, and we are able to watch the transformation of Blackwood House, and its inhabitants, in real time as the book unfolds.

Simply put, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of how a house becomes haunted. It's a ghost story without ghosts - or, more accurately, a story of how a person becomes a ghost.

Our view into this house comes from Mary Katherine Blackwood, an eighteen-year-old girl who lives in Blackwood House with her older sister Constance (who is so severely agoraphobic that she can't venture past the yard) and her Uncle Julian, who is confined to a wheelchair and not quite in his right mind. Mary Katherine is responsible for taking care of what's left of her family, and she takes her job as protector very seriously. She's devised a series of talismans to guard the house against the townspeople, who she views as the enemy. But someone is coming to disrupt the routine that Mary Katherine has carefully created, and the intrusion will have horrible and far-reaching consequences.

GOD, Shirley Jackson does creepy so well. Mary Katherine, in addition to belonging in the Unreliable Narrator Hall of Fame, is also responsible for giving us one of the best opening paragraphs in literature, when she introduces us to her life thusly:

“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-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

The slow reveal of what exactly happened to the rest of the Blackwood family and why is masterfully done, and Jackson reveals just enough information to keep us from getting frustrated, while still keeping some things hidden (admittedly, the identity of the murderer was pretty easy to guess, if only through process of elimination, but I promise that the why of the murder is a lot more interesting than the who).

It's very important that we see the entire story through Mary Katherine's eyes specifically, because as I said, she's not a reliable narrator. "Unbalanced" is putting it lightly, and I could write an entire fucking dissertation on what Mary Katherine tells us vs. what's actually happening. For people who have finished the book:

Nobody does slow-burn, are-ghosts-real-or-are-the-monsters-people, is-this-real-or-am-I-crazy horror like Shirley Jackson. This book is brief, strange, purposefully vague, and terrifying. If you thought haunted-house stories don't need prequels, read this and see how wrong you were.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,480 followers
October 6, 2014

Just another homicidal paranoid-schizophrenic proto-hippy 18 year old girl-child who lives with her older agoraphobic/social-phobic sister and dementia-sufferer wheelchair-bound uncle in an isolated house in the aftermath of a dreadful family tragedy whereby all of the family except these three were poisoned to death in that very house. It’s not an uncommon situation. I know three similar cases here in Nottingham, and I could have told Cousin Charles Blackwood, who turns up crudely attempting to prise the purported family fortune from the sisters’ wayward limbs, that he needn’t have bothered. His blundering honking outside-world male sensibleness will just come apart in his hands; he has no chance against a homicidal paranoid-schizophrenic proto-hippy 18 year old girl-child.
Profile Image for Felice Laverne.
Author 1 book3,204 followers
February 12, 2020
“The least Charles could have done,” Constance said, considering seriously, “was shoot himself through the head in the driveway.”

Have you ever tiptoed down a hall in a dark house late at night, not sure if you really heard that bump in the night? That is what reading this novel was like, in all of the best ways possible. Shirley Jackson is a renowned master at the macabre, the unnerving, the Gothic genre, and this work puts her talents on full display—in HD. Most have read "The Lottery," whether forced by the classically inclined high school English teacher or for the pure love of the unusual, and here you will find the same masterful foreshadowing, biting eeriness and haunting cruelties found in a small-town community. As my Grandma used to say, “You can always count on those ole’ townies to hide the most secrets, put on the most airs and turn on ya the quickest,” and Jackson, once again, highlighted those small-town characteristics in a manner that left hairs raised on the arms and resonance echoing at the finish of each chapter.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a novel about two young adult sisters, Mary Katherine and Constance, who have essentially become lepers in their small town after an incident at their family dinner table six years before that left half of their family poisoned to death, one sister on trial for murder and the other in an orphanage. The women go about their lives, hardly ever even leaving their property and being openly hated by the townspeople, kept company by their ailing, eccentric uncle who loves to talk about “what happened” and their loyal cat, until one day a cousin comes a knocking and their lives are forever changed. It slowly becomes apparent that Merricat (Mary Katherine) is not 100% mentally stable, as she believes she has voodoo-like magical powers to protect herself, her family and her home, she has fantasies about how her dead family members should have treated her before they died, and she harbors obviously sadistic and murderous feelings towards the townspeople who tease and abuse them.

“I would have liked to come into the grocery store some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain and dying. I would then help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there.”

This story had an aspect of urban legend to it, the makings of it and the effect that it has on those who hear it, who believe it. Jackson wove the tale so beautifully that I didn’t even realize how engrossed in their lives—a sign of truly good writing—I’d become until the cousin started changing the sisters’ routine and poking his nose around in that way that is uncomfortable for readers invested in the protagonists, in that way that makes your heart rate quicken just a touch. This story was a peep behind closed doors, both literally and figuratively. It was a look inside the protective bubble of recluse-ness, while simultaneously being an exploration of man’s nature to fear and hate what we do not, ourselves, understand. It was also social commentary in that delicious way that only Southern Gothicism can offer (though this novel has no clear mention of place, it is widely believed to have been set in Vermont, making it technically not Southern Gothic, though every other aspect of it is every bit that genre): it tore back the layers on the small town where everyone knows your name, on the myth of genteelism, courtesy, manners, and community that we all think of from this era of writing (Castle was originally published in 1962). What does it mean to be an outsider in a town like this, in a town where there is no degree of separation between any? In a town that needs a common enemy to unite over in gossip and violence alike? Because, you see, every bully loves a weaker kid, and there’s nothing more cruel than the mob mentality turned against a common enemy. Don’t believe me? Then you haven’t read "The Lottery."

Castle was everything I’d hoped it’d be as a lover and writer of this genre. It was the macabre dressed in politesse that made you think twice—a skill extremely difficult to hone and, thus, all the more laudable when it is—the oddity of family unity and where those bonds can take you, for better or for worse; it was the sharp little dagger of lines like the one above and the what-really-happened-there aspect of the dinner-table happening.

“It did happen. I remember that it happened…”


Easily five stars! *****


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Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,564 followers
August 16, 2020
A.K.A.: Grey Gardens by William Faulkner. Are these unfortunate souls dead or alive in their domestic limbo? Oh, this is one delicious yarn with plenty of turns--with a terror that comes to us only by the Literary Mistress of the Dark Herself, Shirley Jackson. The luxurious morbidity, the Harper Lee Goth cynicism of the book, it is all an absolute delight. I am truly beginning to think that all of her books are like this one--simply the classiest horror of ALL TIME.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
November 3, 2021
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a 1962 mystery novel by American author Shirley Jackson.

Merricat Blackwood, her elder sister Constance, and their ailing Uncle Julian live in a large house on extensive grounds, in isolation from the nearby village. Constance has not left their home in six years, going no farther than her large garden.

Uncle Julian, confined to a wheelchair, obsessively writes and re-writes notes for his memoirs, while Constance cares for him. Through Uncle Julian's ramblings, the events of the past are revealed, including what happened to the remainder of the Blackwood family: six years ago both the Blackwood parents (John and Ellen), an aunt (Julian's wife Dorothy), and a younger brother (Thomas) were murdered – poisoned with arsenic, which was mixed into the family's sugar bowl and sprinkled onto blackberries at dinner.

Julian, though poisoned, had survived; Constance, who did not put sugar on her berries, was arrested for, and eventually acquitted of, the crime. Merricat was not at dinner, having been sent to bed without dinner as punishment. The people of the village believed that Constance had gotten away with murder, and thus began to ostracize the family.

The three remaining Blackwoods had grown accustomed to their isolation, leading a quiet, happy existence. Merricat is the family's sole contact with the outside world, walking into the village twice a week and carrying home groceries and library books; on these trips she is faced directly with the hostility of the villagers and often followed by groups of children, who taunt her, often with an accusing rhyme.

They are quite harsh and rude, and it is made obvious that Merricat knows that her family is hated by the townsfolk. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «ما همیشه در قصر زندگی کرده‌ ایم»؛ «ما همیشه قلعه‌ نشینان»؛ «ما یک عمر قلعه‌ نشین بوده‌ ایم»؛ «همیشه در قلعه زیسته‌ ایم»؛ نویسنده شرلی جکسون؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز هفتم ماه نوامبر سال2017میلادی

عنوان: ما همیشه در قصر زندگی کرده‌ ایم؛ نویسنده شرلی جکسون؛ مترجم محمدرضا شکاری؛ تهران کتابسرای تندیس‏‫، چاپ دوم سال1395؛ در199ص؛ شابک 9786001821844؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: ما همیشه قلعه‌ نشینان؛ نویسنده: شرلی جکسن؛ مترجم:علیرضا مهدی‌پور؛ ویرایش: سپیده رضوی؛ تهران نشر چشمه‏‫، سال‏‫1395؛ در198ص؛ ‬‬‮‬شابک9786002294128؛

عنوان: ما یک عمر قلعه‌ نشین بوده‌ ایم؛ نویسنده: شرلی جکسون.‏‫؛ مترجم: رضا اسکندری آذر؛ ویراستار: کاوه اکبری؛ تهران آگه‏‫، سال1396؛ در192ص؛ شابک9789643293215؛

عنوان: همیشه در قلعه زیسته‌ ایم؛ نویسنده: شرلی جکسون؛ مترجم: علی معصومی؛ بوشهر پاتیزه، سال‏‫‏‏‏‏1395؛ در183ص؛ شابک9786009618408؛

کتاب «ما یک عمر قلعه نشین بوده ایم»، رمانی نوشته ی «شرلی جکسون» است، که نخستین بار در سال1962میلادی منتشر شد؛ روایت زندگی دو خواهر است، که با عموی پیر و گربه‌ شان، در یک خانه ی دور افتاده از اجتماع، خارج از یک روستا، زندگی می‌کنند؛ خانواده‌ ای که علی‌رغم ظاهر زیبا و اشرافی‌شان، با دشمنان، خارجی‌ها، و هرکسی که به آنها احترام نگذارد، و یا قلمروشان را با حضورش، آلوده کند، با خشن‌ترین شیوه‌ ی ممکن، برخورد می‌کنند؛ «ما یک عمر قلعه‌ نشین بوده‌ ایم» حکایت زندگی «مری‌ کاترین بلک‌وود»، کوچکترین دختر خانواده ی «بلک‌وود»هاست، که با خواهر زیبایش «کنستانس»، و عموی پیر و زمین‌گیرش «جولین»، و گربه‌ اش «جوناس»، در خانه‌ ای زیبا و اشرافی زندگی میکنند

اینکه چرا اهالی دهکده با دختران «بلک‌وود» بد هستند، و اینکه چرا آنها را مسخره می‌کنند، و اینکه چرا کودکان روستا، به دنبال «کاترین بلک‌ودد» می‌دوند، و به آواز می‌خوانند: «کانی می‌گه مری کت، چایی بیارم برات؟ مری می‌گه نه! نه! زهر می‌ریزی تو نبات! کانی می‌گه مری‌ کت، می‌خوای بری بخوابی؟ آره توی قبرستون، وای یه خواب حسابی!»؛ قتل و مرگ و میر، اگرچه هسته‌ ی نخستین شکل‌گیری داستان «ما یک عمر قلعه‌ نشین بوده‌ ایم» را، شکل می‌دهد، اما به لطف روایت منحصر به فرد داستان، از زبان «مری‌کت»، چنان به حاشیه رانده می‌شود، که کمتر مورد توجه قرار می‌گیرد؛ همچنین همین زاویه‌ ی دید، رویدادهای داستان است، که قضاوت خوانشگر درباره‌ ی رویدادهای داستان، نظیر علت برخورد عجیب و غریب اهالی روستا با «بلک‌وود»ها، یا علت تنفر از آنها را، دگرگون می‌سازد؛ در واقع «مری‌کت» با همه‌ ی وسواس‌هایش، به‌ زیرکی تلاش می‌کند، تا در میان دشمنان فراوانش زنده بماند؛ دشمنانی که از کشتاری که در عمارت «بلک‌وود»ها رخ داده، و مسببینش بی‌ اعتراف و عقوبت، راحت، در نزدیکی آنها زندگی می‌کردند، چندان خرسند نیستند؛ در مجموع اگر از انتها به ابتدای داستان نگاهی بیندازیم، «ما یک عمر قلعه‌ نشین بوده‌ ایم» روایتی است از اینکه چگونه یک خانه‌ ی زیبا و پر رونق، به خانه‌ ی اشباح بدل می‌شود

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 10/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 11/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
February 26, 2019
High Gothic Art

Hawthorne, Poe, Lovecraft, and even James: Jackson is in their company when it comes to the Gothic genre. She writes in noir et blanc; every word is necessary; the context is revealed at just the right continuous pace; and there is plenty to reveal. No gimmicks, no spiritualist allusions, no unlikely situations: Jackson puts later writers like Stephen King to shame with her talent and wit.

Someone is a homicidal maniac, but which of the Blackwood sisters is it? The traumatized and agoraphobic Constance, or the obsessive-compulsive and more than slightly mad Mary Katherine? Or perhaps it’s the wheelchair-ridden Uncle Julian who fades in and out of dementia? The victims had their own problems, genetic as well as domestic; who knows but they did each other in. An accident is a possibility - perhaps the ancestors left some lethal material around. Then again, the ‘villagers’ are not a very stable bunch; nor for that matter are the ladies of the local gentry who have more than a morbid curiosity in the family Blackwood. When the sinister cousin Charles come to visit, the question becomes more than academic.

The village itself is part of the mystery. How did it arise as what keeps it going economically? What is the cause of the animosity among the ‘leading families’? Why is the finest house in the village, which should be owned by the Blackwood’s, now a junkyard? There is no uncertainty that the village has some distinctive mores: “In this village the men stayed young and did the gossiping and the women aged with grey evil weariness and stood silently waiting for the men to get up and come home.” Jackson piles on the complexity at the same rate that she reveals the situation. For every question answered, two more are posed. The first person narrator might be either insane or acutely insightful. It’s a technique guaranteed to keep the reader’s interest.

It’s also a technique which creates a narrative world amazingly efficiently. The questions of the reader are the things the characters themselves are concerned about. The stance of each, his or her position in the puzzle, is who they are. Little further description is necessary. Strangely, how they fit with other is enough for the reader to imagine what they look like, how they dress, what the landscape is like. For example, Jackson characterises the entire village without specifying anything: “All of the village was of a piece, a time, and a style; it was as though the people needed the ugliness of the village, and fed on it.” She adds nothing but a terse negative formula: “whatever planned to be colorful lost its heart quickly in the village.” Nothing more is needed. She provokes participation by the reader who fills in the descriptive gaps like the eye automatically interprets perspective.

This is more than genre horror or fantasy. Jackson writes literary fiction. This is her masterpiece.
October 7, 2019
I'm an outlier here, I didn't think much of the book at all. The plot was unbelievably hackneyed just like Shirley Jackson's other really-highly rated book, The Lottery. The author writes well - good atmospheric scenes and well-drawn characters but the plots are just so unoriginal and the characters with variations are nothing new either: we've all read them in many novels before.

So I tried to read the book yesterday, but I couldn't get through it and downloaded the film instead. All very atmospheric and great acting, but what was the point of it? Nothing happened! And the great confession at the end of Who Really Did the Murders was obvious right from the beginning. So there you go, I'm unimpressed. Meh.
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 882 books370 followers
May 2, 2008
Ah Merricat, silly Merricat, I do believe I love you. I'm drawn to interestingly insane women, and though of course you would poison me in the end, what a maddening and mysterious time I would first have. You are high on my list of literary loves. At least ones I dare speak of.

What I found so wonderful about this novel was the consistency of Merricat's insanity. Too often an author will distill the essence of insanity into the chaotic, and this is rarely a truism. Insanity is more often an overly-demanding focus, a hitch in a character, a mannerism that has growth as a cancer. Merricat (who I cannot help but to picture as beautiful, with long and lustrous black silken hair---despite all stated references to the contrary)loves to be left alone (that is, alone with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian) and she loves her superstitions. Her superstitions I found charming, and the lengths she will go to in order to remain alone, well, that is the crux of this novel.

Merricat, silly Merricat, one day I will go into the village and distribute much-needed and much-deserved vengeance on your only somewhat illusory tormentors, and then I will go off (I dare not approach your house---such is forbidden) to await you on the moon.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
531 reviews58.6k followers
January 31, 2021
This is a great example of a popular book I simply don't get.

Maybe I would need to analyze it to enjoy it but... I didn't care enough for that.

Not bad, just not for me.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
August 22, 2015
I truly expected to enjoy this book that has been described as creepy, sinister, unsettling and disturbing, but I honestly found it none of those things.

Very little happens beyond going through the motions of Constance and Merricat's daily lives. There is a single revelation and it is extremely anticlimactic, making me instantly not give a damn the moment it appears. I did not find it eerie or interesting... just lacking in everything.

I enjoyed Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories much more.
Profile Image for Lena.
184 reviews74 followers
January 22, 2023
Creepy gothic atmosphere and mentally unstable characters prove that you don't need monsters to get a good horror. Humans are the most terrifying creatures of all. And why be frightened of ghosts or demons when your neighbours can turn into a bloodthirsty mob at any time?
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
October 8, 2021
Happy Halloween, (which for horror fans in general or Shirley Jackson fans in particular is basically every day of the year), in conjunction with my having just read The Shirley Jackson Project, a comics tribute collection edited by Robert Kirby.

10/7/21: Always a great read, with an amazing main character, though in this discussion we troubled the issue of her reliability as a narrator. Of course she is unreliable, in many respects, but can we trust her version of the story in any respect? I think we can. I also read an essay that contended that Constance and Mary Katherine are different aspects of Shirley Jackson's personality. I also read more about Jackson's psychopathology, her agoraphobia, her hatred of the working class townies from North Bennington where she and her husband lived, antipathies that make their way out in this novel and in "The Lottery."

9/17/18: Third read for my Fall 2018 YA course, and what has emerged as one of my favorite books of all time. This time I noticed all the food references more than ever.

“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it.” “I'm going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”

And loved the strange lyricism of Merricat's deft observations. Are Merricat and Constance really happy in their life in the castle, and should we just leave them alone with their choices of isolation, or are they cases of arrested development, of stasis, of the opposite of "coming-of-age" and maturation that we expect in a YA novel? You get to choose, I think. I'll say that, isnce ths is horror, that there is a sufficient case here that these women need just a leetle bit of help in the mental health arena.

9/12/17: I read this in March of this year for a course I was teaching and read it again for my fall YA course.

A memorable tale of gothic suspense by Jackson, the author of the much anthologized, exquisitely perverse short story, “The Lottery" (1948). Castle is Jackson’s last book, often described as her masterpiece, featuring two of the best sister acts in American literature, Constance and her sister Mary Katherine, or Merricat, who says things like this:

“On the moon we wore feathers in our hair, and rubies on our hands. On the moon we had gold spoons.”

And, to her sister, Constance:

“Oh Constance, we are so happy.”
Who often replies, "Silly, silly Merricat."

But truly un-merry Merricat also says things like this, about the people of the town:

“I'm going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”

Six years ago, several of the Blackwood family were poisoned, from arsenic sprinkled with sugar on a bowl of blackberries. Constance, who was in the kitchen, was and still is widely suspected of the crime, of which Merricat simply says:

“Fate intervened. Some of us, that day, she led inexorably through the gates of death. Some of us, innocent and unsuspecting, took, unwillingly, that one last step to oblivion. Some of us took very little sugar.”

Merricat's distinctive narrator’s voice joins those of Scout and Holden Caufield as unforgettable teen main characters in American literature. At turns creepy, delightful, dark, with a touch of black humor, the book also features Constance, Merricat's caretaker sister, weirdly hilarious Uncle Julian, and greedy Cousin Charles who comes to live in the castle for a time. I was intrigued by the tension between the townies and the Blackwood family holed up in their dark gothic mansion. I loved the chilling moment of the Big Reveal, that dramatic horrific climax, but I also loved the strangely sweet conclusion, colored as always by Merricat’s strange witchy habits:

“All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us.”

A masterpiece, revealing more riches at every reading.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books912 followers
October 22, 2019
This book was my first exposure to Shirley Jackson and, perhaps consequently, holds an abnormally large portion of my heart. The Haunting of Hill House is probably better, and "The Lottery" is perhaps the best 20 pages of prose ever written, but I find myself daydreaming of We Have Always Lived in the Castle the most.

I'm not going to describe plot because I went into it knowing nothing and liked it that way. If you absolutely need to know, read the description--but also know that it won't do it justice. No description can account for characters this expertly developed, a setting this crisp and haunting. Like "The Lottery," Jackson uses every word to propel the story to its startling and delicious conclusion.

Nearly 60 years later, you would think her prose would feel a bit dated. But not at all. It could be a classic assigned for school, or it could be a just-released pop novel. Jackson's secret, I think, is that she has the rare ability to blend art and beauty with accessibility. Her characters are brooding and abnormal, yet somehow just like all of us. The plot is ripe with symbolism and art, but also just as juicy as your favorite page-turner.

There are few books that I feel are truly must-reads. Like, your life will not be complete without experiencing them. This is one of them.
Profile Image for Nicole.
446 reviews13.5k followers
July 11, 2021
Nie wiem skąd ta powieść zbiera tak słabe opinie. Czułam się jakbym siedziała w lesie, przy ognisku słuchając opowieści obcego mi człowieka.
To raczej ta powieść z kategorii niestandardowych, ale warta poznania.
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,203 reviews40.8k followers
November 4, 2021
Such a gothic masterpiece and I finally read it! Why do I wait too long and why on earth I watched its semi-satisfying movie adaptation from 2018 at first! Did I expect to watch some brilliant adaptation like Haunting of Hill House? Somewhat I did! But from now on I swear I’ll only read the book at first!

What do I love about this book so much instead of slow burn tension and gothic, bleak, ominous vibes of the castle is impeccable character development. As far as I see the characters are based on the author’s real family: two sisters are inspired by her own daughters and greedy uncle Charles who returns back to steal family fortune is based on her husband ( of course his husband was not greedy and he didn’t intend to steal family fortune 😂but he’s so concerned about money and his way to control the household by criticizing the maids are similar)

Two polar opposite sisters’ bounding is powerful. Merrycat (nickname for Mary Catherine) is only 18, protective, quirky, bold sister who is keen on superstitions, magic, omens ( she’s reflection of 15 years old me) as 28 years old Constance is more reserved and cautious.

Once upon a time: they were family of seven till one day one of them poisons the others. Now the sisters are the only ones left and townies are suspicious about their motives, gossiping around, pointing fingers to them. Is one of the sisters murderer?

Their uncle’s sudden arrival will change their secluded life, revealing the secrets they shared for years!

This book is the best Halloween read choice and one of the greatest works of marvelous Ms. Jackson.

I’m so delighted to read it on this special horror week! And I highly recommend all the horror/ gothic thriller fans if you haven’t read it yet!
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,228 reviews1,063 followers
August 18, 2022
“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-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

So begins Shirley Jackson’s final novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And what a beginning it is! It gives us pause and a frisson of unease runs through us. What on earth is this going to be? It is certainly very odd.

Assorted facts seem to have been thrown at us. The first two sentences lull us into thinking that this is an intimate record by a young woman—perhaps rather an introverted person boosting her confidence. Suddenly we are thrown off kilter by the next sentence. Wishing to be a werewolf? A fantasist then ... or perhaps aspiring to be creative. Making an impression? Writing for a possible future audience? And a sardonic tone, “had to be content with what I had”. She has a dark sense of humour, then, unless ... (the disquieting thought strikes us) is this deadpan? Is she actually serious?

This idea stays with us as we read her dislikes, which confirm our ideas that she is self-absorbed to the point of being obsessional. She reports her likes equally succinctly in her next sentence, thereby revealing to us that she must be intelligent to know the Latin name of a mushroom. (Either that, or have the sort of quirky brain which memorises lists.) But what a strange example to give: the death-cup mushroom. For show, again, perhaps? Perhaps she is a rather immature 18 year old: precocious but still slightly awkward, isolated, and in a dream world of her own. And the final sentence both confirms all our earlier thoughts—and immediately opens a whole extra can of worms.

What? “All dead”?! Are we meant to take this literally? Could it explain why this person is so odd, so self-absorbed? Is she perhaps very troubled or has even by now lost her sanity? Or does she have a different take on reality, is disturbed by a brain disorder such as autism, so that her perceptions are different. Perhaps it is true that all her family are dead. We keep coming back to the fact that she is young. To have chosen those specific words conveys that this is not a remote historical fact; she does not say “died long ago” or “before I was born”. Perhaps then, it was a recent tragedy and she does not have the same emotional reactions as you or I.

So is it a fantasy or a reality? Or is she a ghost, and we are reading a different sort of book?

These were my first impressions, and others will doubtless have similar ones. The author has controlled our reactions very neatly here. We cannot make any sense of what we have read, and have to read on, to find out more. We are intrigued, and committed to reading the story. We have completely lost sight of the fact that this is a narrator, (probably what literary types call an unreliable narrator) in a work of fiction. Although we feel very distanced from her, and we do not trust her, we feel close to her, since we are reading what amounts to her diary. We have been well and truly hooked. We settle down for a riveting read, and hope the rivets are not set in some instrument of torture.

Mary Katherine Blackwood lives with her older sister Constance, their black cat Jonas, and their Uncle Julian, who is infirm in body and sometimes also his mind. They are the last surviving remnants of a grand old American family; the rest of the dynasty has been wiped out. A crime occurred six years ago, and a great inheritance is at stake. This is surely a staple of many golden age mysteries. So, what we want to know now is, who put the arsenic in the sugar bowl? (We are more used to cosy mysteries than ... whatever this is.)

The Blackwood family, odd and eccentric, live in virtual solitude in their family home, a huge rambling, tumbledown edifice. Set apart, it is perched aloof on the outskirts of a small village in Vermont. The inhabitants of the village resent and perhaps fear the Blackwoods, yet they continue to treat them with a reluctant brooding respect, because of their great wealth and power. If we are to believe the narrator, the entire village believes that Constance was guilty of a heinous crime, for which she should pay the price. Constance, now twenty-eight years of age, ventures no further than her garden in the grounds of the great house, never setting foot inside the village for fear of reprisals. The sisters grow their own food and are fairly self-sufficient,

“We eat the year away. We eat the spring and the summer and the fall. We wait for something to grow and then we eat it”

“All the Blackwood women had taken the food that came from the ground and preserved it, and the deeply colored rows of jellies and pickles and bottled vegetables and fruit, maroon and amber and dark rich green, stood side by side in our cellar and would stand there forever, a poem by the Blackwood women.”

Constance appears to get great joy from her domesticity, and in caring for and nurturing her younger sister. There is a sense of order, of tradition. We learn a history of domestic values and collection of paraphernalia, such as china, linens, paintings, furniture and ornaments, and of following timeold routines by which the sisters feel secure,

“We dusted and swept under tables and chairs and beds and pictures and rugs and lamps, but we left them where they were; the tortoise-shell toilet set on our mother’s dressing table was never off place by so much as a fraction of an inch. Blackwoods had always lived in our house, and kept their things in order; as soon as a new Blackwood wife moved in, a place was found for her belongings, and so our house was built up with layers of Blackwood property weighting it, and keeping it steady against the world.”

Yet sometimes it is necessary to venture into town, to collect essentials,

“Fridays and Tuesdays were terrible days, because I had to go into the village. Someone had to go to the library, and the grocery; Constance never went past her own garden, and Uncle Julian could not.”

This hated chore falls to Constance’s younger sister, the 18-year old Mary Katherine, who views the villagers with disdain. They seem almost a different species, mere puppets in her world. Mary Katherine, we learn, is usually called “Merricat”. Mischievous and malevolent in equal parts, even this nickname of merry-cat is itself an apposite contradiction. “Merry” combined with “cat”. Arrogant, catlike, she watches the stolid, stubborn, lumpish villagers, and despises what she sees, inventing vicious fantasies,

“I never turned; it was enough to feel them all there in back of me without looking into their flat grey faces with the hating eyes. I wish you were all dead, I thought, and longed to say it out loud.”

The people here are less than nothing to her. Looking down with contempt, and despising them,

“It was as though the people needed the ugliness of the village, and fed on it. The houses and the stores seemed to have been set up in contemptuous haste to provide shelter for the drab and the unpleasant.”

“Some of the people in the village had real faces that I knew and could hate individually; Jim”

“I always thought about rot when I came toward the row of stores; I thought about burning black painful rot that ate away from inside, hurting dreadfully. I wished it on the village.”

Unsettled and deeply suspicious, we follow Merricat’s wanderings into the village,

“I would have liked to come into the grocery some morning and see them all, even the Elberts and the children, lying there crying with the pain of dying. I would help myself to groceries, I thought, stepping over their bodies, taking whatever I fancied from the shelves, and go home, with perhaps a kick for Mrs. Donell while she lay there. I was never sorry when I had thoughts like this; I only wished they would come true.”

“I am walking on their bodies”— “I am going to put death in all their food and watch them die.”

Why such sadistic violence? Why such maliciousness in addition to the hatred? Merricat would clearly like us to believe that she considers them to be beneath her notice. Or does she, at the edge of her consciousness, fear them, just a little?

“Perhaps the village was really a great game board, with the squares neatly marked out, and I had been moved past the square which read ‘Fire; return to Start,’ and was now on the last few squares, with only one move to go to reach home.”

Merricat views her home then as a sanctuary, and we now have a hint of even more deeply ritualistic behaviour she has invented to keep herself safe. Merricat is a troubled young woman, and not only by obsessional behaviour. She feels the need to mark the boundaries of the Blackwood land with fetishes and totems: talismans, which she believes will protect what is left of her family from the outside world,

“the box of silver dollars I had buried by the creek, and the doll buried in the long field, and the book nailed to the tree in the pine woods; as long as they were where I had put them nothing could get in to harm us.”

“All our land was enriched with my treasures buried in it, thickly inhabited just below the surface with my marbles and my teeth and my colored stones, all perhaps turned to jewels by now, held together under the ground in a powerful taut web which never loosened, but held fast to guard us.”

Merricat is fiercely protective of her sister,

“I decided that I would choose three powerful words, words of strong protection, and so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come.”

“I was resolute about not thinking my three magic words and would not let them into my mind, but the air of change was so strong that there was no avoiding it; change lay over the stairs and the kitchen and the garden like fog. I would not forget my magic words; they were MELODY GLOUCESTER PEGASUS, but I refused to let them into my mind.”

And some at least of these rituals are known to Constance. Perhaps it is a shared fantasy, this recurring theme of “living on the moon” Merricat describes so poetically,

“On the moon we wore feathers in our hair, and rubies on our hands. On the moon we had gold spoons.”

“On the moon we have everything. Lettuce, and pumpkin pie and Amanita phalloides. We have cat-furred plants and horses dancing with their wings. All the locks are solid and tight, and there are no ghosts.”

And Constance herself has her own chosen rituals, although these rituals may seem less strange because they are so common. A tablecloth may have to be spread just so. Only one specific set of cups and saucers should be used for certain visitors. The clock on the mantelpiece may have to be set at just that particular angle. Do these types of rituals remind you of anyone? Sometimes, more kindly, they are termed “routines”.

The cosy chintz, and the clutter of china feel unsettling. Rather than reassuring, they smother, and convey an entire history of female oppression. Not here the horrors of slavery, or of a male dominated hierarchy. This is a subtler sort of oppression, often imposed by females on other females. Usually the perpetrators are those to whom such histories and rituals are overwhelmingly important—and reaffirming. Others may shudder.

Constance seems to behave within social conventions, disregarding even the crime she was tried for. Everything is treated as absolutely normal and unremarkable. It is clear throughout the story that both Constance and her “silly Merricat” love and care deeply for each other. Into this haven of slightly weird tranquillity, come at first some visitors, sympathetic, well-meaning Mrs. Clarke and her nervous friend. Constance plays both host and mischievous entertainer, ensuring that they will never come calling again, deliberately drawing attention to,

“‘— the sugar bowl on the sideboard, the heavy silver sugar bowl. It is a family heirloom; my brother prized it highly. You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine. Is it still in use? You are wondering; has it been cleaned? You may very well ask; was it thoroughly washed?”

In common with the visiting ladies, we are aware that Uncle Julian in his lucid moments also views these visitors as a great source of amusement, playing his own daring pranks. It is difficult to tell when he is dissembling. Does he realise that Merricat still lives with them or not?

Not surprisingly the visitors are keen to get out of this madhouse, and the eccentricities they have viewed are fuel for yet more cruel rumours and reciprocal teasing. Over their six years of isolation, a mythology has grown around the three surviving Blackwoods, and whenever Merricat ventures out, she is greeted with taunts and jeers by the children, who relish repeating their cruel chanting rhyme,

“Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

“‘I can't help it when people are frightened,’ says Merricat. ‘I always want to frighten them more.’”

Something else has to give. Into this mix, another little provocation arrives. A long-lost cousin, the smooth-talking, gold-digging Charles Blackwood arrives on their doorstep. He flatters Constance, has designs on her, coupled with a greedy interest in the Blackwood family estate, and does not attempt to conceal the fact. Merricat think he spoils the neatness of their lives. She hates him with a vengeance,

“I disliked having a fork pointed at me and I disliked the sound of the voice never stopping; I wished he would put food on the fork and put it into his mouth and strangle himself.”

Despite his attempts to quash her, Merricat uses her best and most compelling cat and mouse techniques. We have a sense of impending doom,

“I was thinking, I could turn him into a fly and drop him into a spider’s web and watch him tangled and helpless and struggling, shut into the body of a dying buzzing fly; I could wish him dead until he died. I could fasten him to a tree and keep him there until he grew into the trunk and bark grew over his mouth. If he was under the ground I could walk over him stamping my feet.”

And yet,

“I was wondering about my eyes; one of my eyes—the left—saw everything golden and yellow and orange, and the other eye saw shades of blue and grey and green; perhaps one eye was for daylight and the other was for night. If everyone in the world saw different colors from different eyes there might be a great many new colors still to be invented.”

For me this was the high point of the book; it is very strange indeed. And thus the stage is set, as the author has deliberately ratcheted up up the tension. All the way through this unsettling tale, we have felt the approaching storm The pressure mounts towards this inevitable climax; one which is simultaneously inevitable and shocking.

But who has been persecuting whom? Are there any murderers here? Any psychopaths? All we see is sociopaths, if that, and even then is it possible that so many characters could each be a sociopath? The author isn’t telling. I can guarantee that you will not guess the ending of this tale. Nor, probably, will you guess some of the fallout.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962, three years before Shirley Jackson’s premature death in 1965. All Shirley Jackson’s works include aspects of her own deeply troubled life. Her biographer has suggested that Merricat and Constance reflect two aspects of herself, although the author said that they were fictionalised versions of her own daughters Sarah (Merricat) and Joanne (Constance). Even her husband’s continual concerns about money seem present in the fortune-seeking cousin, Charles.

There is a repeated theme of persecution of people who exhibit “otherness” in many of her stories. The setting of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is said to be recognisable as North Bennington, Vermont (which was also said to inspire her early successful story, “The Lottery”). This is where Shirley Jackson and her husband Stanley, a literary critic and professor in North Bennington, felt treated as outsiders. Democrats and atheists, they sensed also anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism. In another novel too, “The Haunting of Hill House”, the main characters live in a large isolated house which stands alone not only physically, but also socially and ideologically, from the inhabitants of the nearby town.

All of Shirley Jackson’s stories seem to be imbued with an atmosphere of strangeness, a pervasive unease, a sense of intimacy and evil. Despite the sisters’ love and devotion, the overwhelming sense is of claustrophobia. The author herself suffered from agoraphobia and other nervous conditions and these greatly inform a lot of this story. It is scary, mysterious, horrifically creepy, and freakishly weird. Shirley Jackson was fascinated with witchcraft and dabbled with sympathetic magic. Yet there is no supernatural element here, save the echoes of violence and emotion which become imprinted on the places where we live, and may be sensed by those of a nervous dispostion.

The language is precise, well-observed and deceptively simple. Every single sentence has a place, a reason for being there. There is probably another layer, something implied or significant, rather than a simple description of what happens. Depending on your tastes, you may find it either entrancing, or unsettling.

By the end of the book, we know most of the facts, but there is no one way of making sense of them. We are drawn to a psychological explanation, but the author offers us none, nor does she imply a moral judgement. We are not even sure whether the ending we have read is happy or not.

The lasting feeling I have from the book is of claustrophobic small-town America. And possibly being force-fed fusty fudge, by a gentil lady with coiffured hair and a malevolent smile. We Have Always Lived in the Castle to me feels very American. It is steeped in a sense of venerated “old money”, parallel but different from the aristocratic upper classes of England. This is hard for a non-American to feel as intuitively. The so-called “castle” too, is nothing like an English person would assume. Perhaps this is why I prefer “The Haunting of Hill House”, even though We Have Always Lived in the Castle is generally regarded as her best novel.

Nor is this a horror novel in any modern sense. There is a chilling creepiness, but these cobwebs are doused with honey.
Profile Image for Nayra.Hassan.
1,260 reviews5,379 followers
August 16, 2022
المجتمع المريض لا يتسامح مع الاصحاء؛و لا الاغنياء ولا غير العقلاء
والعزلة أصلها كف الأذى عن النفس
هناك من يعتزل كاليمام بوداعة
و هناك من يعتزل كالقنفذ؛مشهراً اشواكه كماريكات
روايتنا عن المسكوت عنه في كل بيت ؛ عن  الظلام عندما ينتصر؛ و عن الجنون عندما يفترس

شقيقتان ثريتان مكسورتي الروح؛ تعيشان مع عم مقعد ببلدة ريفية امريكية في مطلع الستينات؛متحصنين في قصرهم بعد تبرئة الابنة الكبري من تهمة قتل اسرتها ويأتي ابن عمهم تشارلز اللزج؛ و ينبههم  لواقعهم الجنوني؛ فهل هم في امان حقا؟

روايتنا قوطية؛ عن احد تلك القلاع الموروثة و ما تتركه فيها الاجيال من نفائس و طاقات؛ و ما تمنحه لساكنيها من عِزة و أمان؛فهل سيكونون الجيل الاخير للقلعة؟
روايتنا عن شر الأطفال؛ الذي ُنفضل دوماً الا نواجهه؛ نتعامي عنه حتي نندم حيث لا ينفع الندم ابدا
ان تُشعر بناتك انهن غير مرغوب فيهن؛ فهذا اسوأ ما يمكنك منحه علي مدي العمر
و ماريكات نموذج للطفل الاوسط المكروه؛ ومنذ الافتتاحية تكشف أوراقها لمن يفهم؛ سلوكها فصامي هوسي سيكوباتي متنوع من طراز ما ابدعك؛
مع لمحة انفصال و تعالي علي واقع يرفضها و يحتقرها و يهابها؛ فتبادل كوكب
الأرض احتقاره باحتقار اشد؛ و تستقتل في تحديها للطبيعة؛ فتتحدي السلطة الابوية
فهي مع كل ما تعانيه؛ تعاني ايضا من رهاب التغيير؛ قد يبدو من يعاني منه لاول وهلة انه محب للاستقرار؛ لكن عالمه يهتز بتغيير مكان اريكتها او مجئ زائر طاريء

اما كونستانس ذات ال٢٨ ربيعاً؛ فمعاناتها من رهاب الخروج؛مُسبب و لكنه اوقف حياتها/منطقها تماما
فهل يستحق الأمان ان نبذل من اجله حياتنا؟
الأمريكان عندهم هوس بالتحصين َو التخزين و التمترس؛ ربما منذ الحرب الاهلية؛ او لانهم مجتمع متعدد الأعراق؛ او لتباعد الولايات و كثرة الاعاصير
الكل يفضل ان يتحول لنعامة حتي تمر العاصفة؛

لهذا فهمت الان لماذا اتجه اجانب الجوودريدز لقراءة الحصن مع بدء عزل كورونا العالمي في ربيع ٢٠٢٠ لطالما عشنا في حصن تناسب الثقافة الأمريكية ؛فهي رواية حصريا عن   الفرار من الاخرين.. فهم الجحيم

روايتنا سلسة الاسلوب؛ رشيقة الترجمة؛ عن الطبقية في مجتمع حر بشراسة؛ عبر العالم هناك ذلك الحقد الدفين علي :السيد و اسرته القابعين في قلعة عالية تزدهر بدماء الفلاحين و عرقهم؛ من السهل ان نتخيلهم مثل عم دهب؛ يستحمون في العملات الذهبية
لن نتسائل ابدا؛ هل الاب يسيئ لبناته ؟ هل الام مخذولة لانها رزقت ببنات اولا؟ هل الكل متحصنين بالقلعة ام سجناء بها؟
العمل الاخير لأي كاتب لا يكون الافضل؛ و لكنه كثيرا ما يكون الأهم كمرجع للسيرة الذاتية للكاتب و مؤلفتنا حظت بكره والدتها و استغلال زوجها و قلة إخلاصه ؛و بعدد من الامراض و نزيد عليهم رهاب الخلاء؛ و شيخوخة مبكرة كما يبدو من صورتها

فتقيأت في وجوهنا كقراء ما كتمته طوال ٤٨ سنة هي عمرها في حياة حظت فيها بعداء غير مبرر ممن
كانوا جميعا عبيد لنمطيتهم و جلافتهم؛ عبيد لمحدودية عقولهم و افتراضاتهم؛ لاطماعهم و تصنعهم و ماديتهم المقيتة؛ لذا كان من السهل ان نهرب من عقلية القطيع و نتقبل النهاية و المصير؛ فالعزلة وطن الأرواح المتعبة

و مراجعة صديقتي ياسمين وفت حياة شيرلي حقها
October 13, 2021
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“Bow all your heads to our adored Mary Katherine.”

In recent years Shirley Jackson has experienced a kind of renascence. Perhaps it is because of Netflix's adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House or possibly it is due to contemporary authors-such as Donna Tartt, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King-who have credited Jackson as their inspiration, enhancing her reputation and prompting a reappraisal of her work. The fact that the Gothic and Horror genres—long regarded as cheap and sensational—are no longer considered ‘lowbrow’ fiction has also contributed to this reassessment of Jackson’s oeuvre.
Modern readers now regard Jackson as a central figure of the America Gothic as much of her fiction paints a fascinating—if not disturbing—portrait of postwar America . Yet, I find it difficult to pigeonhole Jackson as a Horror writer. While her narratives do tend to focus on emotionally disturbed women, they also present us with rather Kafkaesque realities. Time and again Jackson magnifies the way in which traditions and societal expectations pose a threat to one's individuality and creativity. Indeed, most of her stories follow a woman's 'quest' to find or maintain her identify.
The 'horror' within Jackson's stories is often psychological and it is experienced by her main characters. It is because most of her protagonists are labelled as 'different' that they are made vulnerable. Their vulnerability makes them afraid of the world around them. Yet, readers will often find that all of Jackson's characters behave in an eccentric, if not downright disturbing, manner (there are whole towns and communities populated by weird people...a bit a la A Series Of Unfortunate Events). In spite of this, this normalised weirdness, our protagonists are still singled out. Perhaps this is because they seem more interested in practicing their personal brand of witchcraft than of engaging with the rest of their world. Or perhaps it is their fear, often tinged with horror, of others that makes them stand out, even amongst other ‘eccentrics’. As Jackson demonstrates time and again, the horror experienced by her heroine seems an almost an inevitable reaction to their terrible realities. And other people should indeed be feared.
Madness and evil pervade Jackson’s writing to the extent that even her depictions of everyday occurrences are riddled with human weaknesses, fears, and cruelties. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle evil takes many forms, and our heroine has every reason to hate and fear the rest of the world.

The protagonist of We Have Always Lived in the Castle—which happens to be Jackson’s last published novel—has no interest in personal growth. Mary Katherine, who goes by the nickname of Merricat (quite fitting given that she often behaves like her closest companion, a black cat named Jonas), is an untame and defiant tomboy whose apparent ingenuousness hides a razor-alert mind. Six years before the events of the narrative—at the age of twelve—Merricat's mother, father, aunt, and younger brother died after eating sugar laced with arsenic. Constance, Merricat’s older sister, is accused and acquitted of the crime.
Ostracised from their village, Merricat and Constance have become completely estranged from society. At the age of eighteen—free from her parents’ rules—Merricat has fashioned Blackwood Manor into her own private and idyllic world. The two sisters and Uncle Julian—who survived the poisoning but is now wheelchair-bound and increasingly senile—lead a life that is relatively quiet and governed by the daily chores and the ritual of mealtimes. Constance is in charge of the cooking and spends most of her days looking after Uncle Julian and completing household chores with Merricat, whom she treats with loving indulgence, often condoning Merricat’s disturbing behaviour by saying “silly Merricat”. When Constance voices her desire to go outside of the property, Merricat fear of this begins to manifests itself in her surroundings, skewing the way she perceives her reality so that she views ordinary things as ‘omens’ that “spoke of change.” Merricat attempts to regain control of the situation through her witchcraft and by breaking objects but with cousin Charles’ unannounced visit, Merricat is forced to take more drastic approaches to self-preservation.

A third fourths fifth reading of this short and beautifully odd novel has made me even more appreciative of Shirley Jackson's mastery of words. The first time I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle I was propelled into an increasingly puzzling yet utterly compelling story. During my second reading, I payed more attention to all of the novel's components, rather than just getting swept along the bizarrely unapologetic storyline. Each time I re-read this novel, I love it even more. Jackson doesn't feel the need to explain the surreal reality of her novels which makes readers such as me all the more in awe of her craft. Although it is difficult to draw comparisons, I could describe her style as David Lynch meets Tim Burton. Everything and everyone within this novel is peculiar and most scenes and conservations seem to holda level of absurdity. Merricat's narrative is also marked by a sense of growing unease (towards change, the future, anything other than her own version of reality) and the tension created by her various anxieties is alleviated by the story's dark humour.

There are many different layers to We Have Always Lived in the Castle. One the one hand, it is exactly what its reputation promises it to be: an incredibly eerie and compelling short novel. On the other hand, it also delves into many challenging and unsettling subjects, such as paranoia, persecution and violence. Shirley Jackson does not shy away from portraying the darker corners of human nature, in fact, she delves right into the darkest parts of the human psyche.
On the surface, Merricat’s alienation is debilitating yet a closer look suggests that her estrangement from her society is an act of self-preservation, one that is both empowering and subversive, allowing them to defy the societal norms and expectations of their time. Throughout the course of her narrative she attempts—for better or worse—to shape and maintain her own identities, refusing the role thrust upon her by her society. In Jackson’s novels, a world of fantasy is preferable to the ‘real’ world, which is populated by people who perform acts of cruelty, physical brutality and or psychological violence against those they perceive as ‘outsiders’. Merricat, who embodies the feared ‘other’ through her unwillingness, if not outright refusal, to adhere to established social conventions, is the ideal scapegoats of her community.

Merricat’s megalomania shows itself through her desire to exact punishments and for designating things and people as either “good” or “bad”. Her dichotomous view of the world causes her to behave in extremes: she varies between acting like a feral child, a sulky adolescent, and a seemingly Cassandra-like individual. Merricat obeys her childish impulses, and readily resorts to violence when not getting her way. Although Merricat sounds much younger than her eighteen years, her naivety is misleading, and her fantasies can easily move between those of a child (“I really only want a winged horse, anyway. We could fly you to the moon and back, my horse and I”) and those of a far more ruthless and dangerous person.
Her sadistic fantasies, her manipulation and subordination of Constance, and her desire to frighten others (“I always thought about rot when I came toward the row of stores; I thought about burning black painful rot that ate away from inside, hurting dreadfully. I wished it on the village.” ) reveal Merricat’s cunning awareness. Readers might find her charming, yet warped perspective jarring, especially since she avoids explaining her most malevolent deeds.

Merricat’s surreal inner world is conveyed through her first-person narration and readers are granted a unique insight into some of her mental strategies that she uses to feel protected from world around her’. To an outsider like her cousin Charles, many of Merricat’s actions seem to be unwarranted temper tantrums. Readers, on the other hand, know that Merricat always attributes a meaning—however absurd or far-fetched it may appear—to her every action and word. We are aware that she deliberately smashes objects in an effort to regain control over her life.
Merricat’s tendency to let her fantasies dictate her behaviour, turning her imagination into reality, distances herself from the ever-present threat of reality. She attempts to change and control aspects of her life through magical charms and fantasies, with little direct engagement with the outside world. Merricat’s need of control could possibly stems from her ‘fear of change’ which in turn causes her to perceive anything outside her and Constance’s established routine, such as the arrival of uninvited guests, as a threat to their wellbeing. Merricat tries to deflect ‘change’ through her own unique brand of witchcraft, which consists in the performance of various magical rituals, the burying of various ‘safeguards’, unspoken ‘spells’, and even the occasional“‘offering of jewellery out of gratitude”. Merricat draws strength from her belief in magic. What Charles—and presumably the rest of society—would see as childish games, Merricat views as the means to safeguard her future and protect her from the outside.

It is up to Merricat to fashion her home, Blackwood Manor, into a ‘castle’—a stronghold—which she can protect through various magical rituals and wards, and Merricat believes that nothing—and no one—can prevent her from projecting her fantastical and solipsistic view of the world onto her reality.
Shirley Jackson's style is perfectly attuned to Merricat's unnerving mind. Her obsessive and impulsive nature is fluidly conveyed by Jackson's repetitive and rhythmical writing. Jackson also evokes a surrealisms reminiscent of fairy tales through the Merricat's childlike urges and morbid fascination.
Merricat is a beguiling narrator. Her playful fantasies are juxtaposed against the most violent and bizarre thoughts. Her devotion to her sister borders on the obsessive yet it is through this puzzling relationship that we see a more genuine side to Merricat's character. In spite of her selfish nature, her palpable fears and unique worldview make her into a fascinating protagonist. Once the stability of the sisters' purposely reclusive existence is threatened, Merricat survives through her active fantasy. She retreats into the deepest parts of her made-up world. And it is her increasingly desperate attempts to retain control over both Constance's and her own life that make her into such a brilliant character. Even in those instances where she 'simply' observes others, Merricat is always 'there', her presence unmissable to the readers.

Her sister Constance also demonstrates worrying behaviour. She too is initially in complete denial over the family's status. She is in some things, rather controlling, while in other instances, she seemed...on another planet. While Constance remains a cypher of sorts, we see why Merricat needs her.
Uncle Julian ramblings were endearing and his sharp remarks provided much entertainment. Much of the story's humour springs from his character.
Merricat perceives cousin Charles a threat right from the start. The scenes featuring him are brimming with tension: Merricat's apprehension is all too real, and I found myself viewing him as an 'enemy', just as she does. Merricat's descriptions of him often present him as something not quite human, a ghost or some such creature. While we can see that some of his criticisms towards Constance and Merricat may have some 'merit', we will also see him as an intruder (given that we see him through Merricat's perspective) and I definitely wanted him to get his comeuppance.

The underlying suspense, the growing unease, make this uncanny tale hard to put down.The vivid descriptions are simply tantalising, the surreal quality of the characters' conversations is darkly amusing and the atmospheric setting is almost tangible. We Have Always Lived in the Castle makes for a lush and macabre read, one that will probably strike you as weird yet ultimately compelling. It could be read as a fairy-tale of sorts, an alternative to folklore narratives, or as a story that sets otherness against 'herd' mentality.
Recently there has been a film adaptation of this novel (you can watch the trailer for it here) which, in spite of some alterations, brings to life Jackson's story. It doesn't quite succeed in conveying the novel's unapologetic weirdness, its idiosyncrasies, and its black humour but it isn't a terrible adaptation. I would actually loved it if Laika (the studio that did Coraline) had adapted this.
If you happen to love (or like) the film Stoker you might want to give this book a read as the two share quite a few similarities (a relative called Charles breaks the 'harmony' in the protagonist's household, the mcs are morbid/creepy teenagers with some disturbing habits).
The first page of this novel perfectly encapsulates its style and tone. If you are uncertain whether this is the kind of story for you, I recommend you read its opening paragraph:

“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 deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

I've now read this 6 times and I find myself still in love with it. Jackson is a brilliant storyteller and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a marvel of a book.
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