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


We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
Published 1962
146 pages

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a creepy little book. Well, maybe the book’s not creepy, but the characters sure are.

Mary Katherine (Merricat), her sister Constance, and their frail Uncle Julian all live together in the house where, 10 years before, all the family members excluding these three were poisoned when they ate sugar laced with arsenic. Constance was tried and acquitted for this crime, but the townspeople know one of the sisters must have been the culprit so shun the whole family, even allowing their children to taunt Merricat when she ventures out on her weekly trip to by groceries. Constance has become a recluse and Uncle Julian is bound to his wheelchair.

Their rather compulsive routine is rattled when their Cousin Charles comes to stay with them for a while. Cousin Charles can barely hide his real motive of wanting to find the family’s hidden fortune. Merricat is beside herself trying to get Cousin Charles to leave, as he is messing up the life she and her sister and her Uncle Julian have set up. Merricat decides to do whatever necessary to make him leave.

It’s rare to encounter characters as well crafted as Merricat. She’s 18 years old but acts and has the emotional maturity of a pre-teen. You think she might be evil, and you’re not sure what it exactly it is about her that doesn’t sit right, but there’s just something sitting just below the surface, something the characters seem privy to but not the reader.

It’s also rare to encounter writing like Shirley Jackson’s, writing that, while you’re reading it, you know it’s great. It’s not pretentious, yet it’s complex and nuanced. This is a fun and quick novella that does not disappoint.

Rating: 88 out of 100

Buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle from Powell’s | Buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle from Amazon

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| Tags: , , , , , 33 comments »

33 Responses to “Review – We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson”

  1. I Heart Monster

    I’m going to have to read this one. I did a Minimal Investment post a few weeks ago with Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery. I like her writing. Thanks for the review and the reminder!!


  2. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

    I put this book on my wishlist after seeing Book Addictions gushing review of it a few weeks ago. I didn’t realise it was a novella – I’m going to have to try to find a copy now, as I’m in need of a few short books, after the row of chunksters I’m reading at the moment!


  3. Chris@bookarama

    I read this years ago but think I’ll reread it for Carl’s RIP Challenge this year.


  4. Jenn

    I’m bumping this book up on my TBR list. I learned about it on Librarything and have been desperate to read it since then. Thanks for reminding me!


  5. jess

    I never heard of this book, but it sounds great. Wonderful review.


  6. Kathy

    It sounds good and the cover is fabulous too!


  7. Sadako

    Loved this when I was younger, and it’s made me want to go back and reread it.


  8. Gwendolyn B.

    I LOVE this book! And, Shirley Jackson is one of my favorite authors. I was appalled when one of the English professors at a college where I worked had never heard of her. How do you get a degree in Literature without ever reading her short story, THE LOTTERY?! When I read Poppy Adams’ THE SISTER last year, I thought of WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE and have intended to re-read it since then. Thanks for shining a spotlight on this terrific book!


  9. Heather

    I’m glad you got a chance to read this one, Trish. It’s a book that I would have expected you to enjoy and I’m happy that you did. 🙂


  10. Kimmy

    This sounds like my kind of book. Also, I LOVE the cover!
    Thanks for the review.


  11. Care

    Great review!! I loved the mood and uneasy creepy feeling of this book.
    Thanks for the linky-love. 🙂


  12. Kiki

    Oh, how I love this book! One of my favorites! I have this same edition and I also love the artwork on the cover.


  13. Kim L

    Ooh, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I really had no idea what to expect when I read this, and it was so delightfully creepy! Ah, what a great read. And it just gets better the more you think it over.


  14. Jenners

    Never heard of this but it sounds promising. I think I’ll check it out (of the library).


  15. bybee

    “Castle” is my favorite of Jackson’s novels. I’m so glad you read it. Private Demons, Shirley Jackson’s biography, is also a good read, if you can find it.


  16. Susan

    This is my second favourite book, after The Haunting of Hill House, which is one of my all-time favourite ghost stories. Both are so creepy! Merricat (and I love that nickname) and her sister, and the growing feeling that something is wrong – yes, an amazing story, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it so! I have to reread it soon, along with The Haunting of Hill House. Thanks for highlighting such a wonderful book!


  17. natalie @ book, line, and sinker

    is this the shirley jackson of ‘the lottery’ fame? that sinister little short story from my teen years?!?!? love the cover of this book.


    trish Reply:

    YES! Her creepiness is prolific.


  18. Pam

    Wow can I just say that cover is absolutely fabulous! I love the front characters how they look so alike but so different at the same time. Makes me wish I could draw a straight line.

    The review sounds awesome I am gonna add this to my to read / buy list that is growing faster than I can earn the money to buy!

    Glad Twitter brought me to RSS your site. Great wealth of information here.


  19. Steph

    I’m glad you liked this one, as I just bought a copy myself on my last trip to the used bookstore. I am expecting (and looking forward to!) a creepy read, so I’m glad this one doesn’t disappoint on that front.


  20. Staci

    I haven’t read this one but I will certainly pick it up soon. I loved The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House. The old movie of Hill House is very creepy!! She was a great writer!! Excellent review!


  21. FleurFisher

    Excellent! I have this one on my TBR and I’m looking forward to it.


  22. zibilee

    I have been wanting to read this book for a long time. Glad to hear it’s pretty good! Also, that cover scares the bejesus out of me.


  23. Tara

    I read this last year, and your review makes me want to re-read it! It’s so perfectly creepy. I do want to read more Shirley Jackson.


  24. A Hazra

    When I saw the cover, I thought it was a zombie book, but your review points towards something different. I don’t think this book is available in my country, but I’ll look out anyways.


  25. jennygirl

    The cover definitely doesn’t help. I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of Jackson’s other creepy book…name is escaping me at the moment. I’ll have to look for this at the same time.


  26. sarah pekkanen

    I’ve been cooped up with young kids during bad weather – I need something fun and quick! Thanks for the recommendation.


  27. Jeane

    Just stopped by again to say I’ve given you an award!


  28. Paul

    I love this book to death, but I don’t think I’d call it, or any of its characters, creepy. Haunting of Hill House is occasionally creepy (although even that isn’t mostly creepy, it exists mostly in a kind of dreamy/fanciful state with sinister undertones), but the Castle book is mostly comedy. It’s not cheap comedy, it’s really rather brilliantly done, and the book does have some dark elements, but they’re all in the service of setting up the weird/funny vibe that dominates. And as for Merricat, she’s a riot. One of the funniest characters in al American lit, IMO. I still think fondly back on her randomly saying things like, “Cousin Charles is a demon” at the dinner table. While he’s sitting there. And the way she talks to her cat. It’s just very funny.


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