We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


We Have Always Lived in the Castle is about the Blackwood family, who live in isolation from their community. The narrator is the youngest member of the family, Katherine”Merricat” Blackwood, an 18 year old who despises almost everyone outside of her immediate family, and not without reason.
The town has isolated her family (which also includes her older sister Constance and their uncle Julian) due to an incident that happened several years ago to the family, resulting in the parents, aunt and brother being killed. The exact details of the incident are told later on in the novel, but the novel revolves around the aftermath of this incident and the isolation and psychological torment the family goes through, especially after they slowly start to have more contact with the outside world.
This novel took me several attempts to get into; I found Merricat an annoying narrator, she seemed incredibly immature for her age and I didn’t think I could stand an entire novel from her head. Thankfully I pushed through. Just like my experience with Jackson’s other novel The Haunting of Hill House, The beginning part needs to be pushed through before I get into the story and then I’m completely absorbed. Both novels feature an emotionally unstable protagonist who has a hard time connecting with those around her, however, this one considers herd mentality, both by the townspeople who chastise and harass the family, and by the family themselves. Constance hasn’t left the house since the incident and Merricat both encourages and hinders Constance interactions with others. While she encourages Constance to leave the house, she fails to see any good in anyone who tries to reach out to her. It’s a very manipulative relationship and an often uncomfortable narrative voice, but it does a great job of showing the psychological make-up of a dysfunctional family, especially one trying to live life after a public tragedy.
This novel is considered to be Jackson’s masterpiece. I don’t know how much I agree with that, given I’ve only read one other novel by her, but like the Haunting of Hill House, it’s stayed with me in a way that I find rare nowadays. Jackson creates such a strong mood within her novels; the cover art in the edition above shows it perfectly. If the story behind that cover truly intrigues you, you should really give this one a go.

Recommended readings if you enjoyed this novel:

A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This novel is part of my No Book Left Behind Project


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