We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

As it was Halloween during the weekend just past I wanted to read something that was sufficiently spooky or ghostly or chilling. I found what I thought would be the perfect read free with The Times last week as I mentioned. The book in question was Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle which is a book that after seeing wonderful reviews of by Claire, Simon T, and Kim I have been on the hunt for this book along with the fact that Shirley Jackson is supposed to be a mistress of the chilling.

“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.”

Even the start of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is quite a chilling one told by the youngest daughter of the Blackwood family Merricat (from Mary Katherine) as she tells us that in a crumbling old building, we presume a castle, surrounded by woodland live her, her sister and her aging Uncle Julian (who seems to have Alzheimer’s and even believes Merricat is dead) as outcasts from the nearby village. In fact in the opening chapters we see how the village treat her like some kind of leper, they will chide and tease her but they won’t come near her for fear of her family name and past.

I won’t give too much away about the book suffice to say there is a great mystery around her families death and one that as you read along you gain more snippets into until you find out one shocking twist which did actually make me let out a small gasp. The sinister tone of the book is underlying for most of the book and in some ways becomes much darker on the arrival of their cousin Charles who Merricat takes and instant dislike to before things come to a rather dark and dramatic head.

Whilst a chilling tale about… well that would give everything away so lets just leave it at that. Whilst being a chilling tale this is also a book very much about how society can cast out those who are different through gossip and rumour. It also looks at how a child can block out horrific events and cope with huge loss. Merricat is a fascinating and insightful character who copes with bad things by using three magic words, burying household items, sending herself on a winged horse to the moon, talking long walks and talks with her cat and attaching family heirlooms to trees as rituals to ward of evil and possibly block out the past.

Though this is a relatively small book its not one you can read quickly as there is so much to take in both in terms of storyline, back plot and the relationships between the characters as well as the descriptions of all that surround them from the house itself to the wood and village beyond. It also looks at some big subjects as I mentioned and though I personally had a slow and unsure start with it by the end I was gripped and it packed a punch that will stay with me for quite some time. I am glad I gave this a go and am very eager to read much more Shirley Jackson. Where to go next though?

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29 Comments

Filed under Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

29 responses to “We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

  1. Simon – was in London last week and stumbled across this give away which had somehow passed me by. I gave up reading the Times in 1997 when it decided that the most comfortable place for it to be was up Tony Blair’s **** and have only just started flirting with it again. Was in Nero caff getting a caff when I spotted this and at 90p for paper and book thought it a bargain, particularly as it is a title I have been meaning to read for ages.

    So I read the Times, binned it, but kept the book. Will read and report back in due course

    • Hahahaha I didnt read The Times at all, I shamelessly got it for the book alone and teh rest was simply recycling!

      Next time you are in London do let me know, we could do coffee! I look forward to your thoughts.

  2. Dot

    Simon- I want to read this even more now, great review! This book has been on my Amazon wish list for ages!

  3. Grrr – really wish I’d been able to bag a copy! It’s not in the library yet and I’m desperate to read it.

  4. I saw that the Times was giving this away recently – so very, very envious. Why on earth haven’t American newspapers adopted this brilliant plan of giving things away? I got DVDs of Spellbound & the Masterpiece Theatre Dr. Zhivago out of British newspapers, and if I still lived there I could have had this wondrous book as well!

    End jealous rant.

    Have you read The Haunting of Hill House yet? General consensus seems to be it’s not as good as We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but I am quite fond of it. If you like haunted house stories, Hill House is a particularly superb one.

    • British newspapers are very good at their giveaways but I think its because we have so blinking many for such a small country that the competition is really tough and so in The Times case out come the freebies!

      I havent read The Haunting of Hill House but I am most definately going to have to now!

  5. Simon, I’d go for (well, in actual fact, I did) The Haunting of Hill House next but, as Jenny says, it doesn’t live up to the sheer originality of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I am now a definite fan of Shirley Jackson and was desperate to read the two novels I mentioned after reading “The Lottery”. Her subtleties are simply stunning and in Haunting you begin to doubt what you are reading (in a similar way as never fully trusting Merricat).

    The gasp-out-loud shock was one I was expecting but it still packed a punch!

    • I saw and left you a comment on Hill House am only back in the land of the internet properly today so am playing catch up with everyone!

      The Lottery is also on my hitlist, am now also definatley a Shirley Jackson fan and no mistake.

  6. I just added this book to my to-read list recently, and all I had heard was that it was a worthwhile read. I had no idea that this is the same Shirley Jackson of The Lottery fame. That is one of the few short stories that has stayed in my mind since high school. I haven’t read anything else by her, but I can only imagine the impact a full novel by her will have on me. Now I’m even more eager to read it!

    • Oh it sounds like The Lottery is quite a read and now thats another definate for the TBR list, don’t you just love it when you find new authors who you just know you are going to love?

  7. I definitely need to get on the band wagon with the whole Shirley Jackson thing. I’ve not read a single book of hers, but so desperately want to. I need to start stockpiling for next RIP! Do you think Carl would do a RIP Challenge in April? hee hee

    • I think she is someone you would definately like Sandy, I too will be stockpiling books for the next RIP it just sounded like so much fun and so many books I would read anyway.

  8. I’d not heard of Shirley Jackson till now I’m guessing this is a little shamefull but this sounds right up my street, will be looking out for a copy. Thank you for the review.

  9. Zee

    Why oh why do I not still live in the UK? This sounds like such a great read. Thank you for the review I will have to try and get my grubby little hands on a copy.

  10. Just dropping by to say welcome to the November Novella Challenge. I can’t wait to see what you pick!

  11. Hi, savidgereads! Thanks for dropping by at my blog. Interestingly enough, I’ve read We Have Always Lived in the Castle this year. I saw the Penguin Deluxe Edition at a bookstore and I must admit that I was really intrigued by the cover.

    When I picked up the book, I had no idea what the book was all about, but I automatically assumed that it was a ghost story. Even though it wasn’t, I was really pleasantly surprised by the story! And that revelatory part at the novel’s end is just too good!

    • Hi Peter, a pleasure to pop by I am using my freetime to catch up with lots of blogs I have been meaning to pop by for ages and am now doing my very best to keep popping back.

      This book may not be about ghosts as you say but you are spot on its very haunting in its own way.

  12. I missed the giveaway! A bit galling, since I’d just bought a copy full price… oh well. Hopefully she’ll become better known in the UK now – Haunting of Hill House is good, but not as good as WHALitC. I’ve also read The Bird’s Nest by Jackson, but in the Bodleian as it’s impossible to track down in England. Interesting, but worse than those other two.

    • Hahahahaha so basically I have read the best then, oh shucks! I am sure the others are good in their own way and though I wont be instantly rushing out to get a copy of Hill House its definately on my hit list!

      P.S Don’t be galled… yours has a nicer cover!

  13. Bet

    On this side of the pond, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is always read in high school classes. I hadn’t even heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle until now, but I did love her autobio, Life Among the Savages. And put me down as one who read both biography and autobiography. I find autobio much more engaging and story-like. I suppose it’s because you are hearing the author’s voice in a way you can’t when someone else is writing about them.

    • Oh I could call my autobiography Life Among The Savidges hahahaha. I didnt know she had written an autobiography and hers is one that I am sure I would enjoy. For now am just going to read her fiction first.

  14. Pingback: We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson « The Bookworm Chronicles

  15. Pingback: The Tooth – Shirley Jackson « Savidge Reads

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