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

51jgtF1zbgL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_We Have Always Lived in the Castle  is a difficult book to categorise in terms of a review. I read it under the auspices of a ‘forgotten’ crime book but it’s since become clear that Jackson certainly hasn’t been forgotten by her readers. She’s been cited as influence on writers as diverse as Stephen King, Donna Tartt and Neil Gaiman and it’s not difficult to see why. The book opens in the Blackwood family home and Merricat preparing for a shopping expedition into town. She’s despised and mocked by the local community and it’s revealed that the isolation she lives in with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian is the result of her sister’s acquittal of the murder of the rest of her family years earlier. When Cousin Charles comes to visit with designs of the family fortune, Merricat is determined to protect the fragile stability that they’ve created inside the imposing home.

This is an impossible book to review because much of its greatness comes from the second half where there are shocking reveals and touching gestures of humanity. Merricat is portrayed as an innocent, cooped up in the house with two eccentrics who live life much as before ignoring the world outside. Tension is introduced into the story through the guise of a shady cousin who although blustery in character at least has the vestiges of normality about him. For much of what you read is smoke and mirrors and a shocking act moves the book in a different direction than expected.

It’s hard to compare this book to any other. I’m sure Stephen King fans will love it but it’s also a work of literary fiction where plot strands remain open. The afterword by Joyce Carol Oates is fascinating and perfectly placed (I hate forewords that give away the plot).

If you’ve not tried any Shirley Jackson here’s a deliciously creepy place to start. On the strength of this I’ve ordered The Haunting of Hill House because I’m pretty sure she’s going to be a fantastic writer of the supernatural too.

16 thoughts on “Review: Shirley Jackson – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  1. Kathy P.

    Morning Sarah. I’m afraid I’m a total and utter wimp when it comes to anything creepy and haunting 😈, and just the cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle gives me the shivers. Even the thought of the plots in Stephen King’s books has me rushing for the back of my sofa. Give me a straight forward murder any day 😕.


  2. Marianne Wheelaghan

    We Have Always Lived in The Castle is possibly my favourite book of all time – and good to read that you like it too 🙂 By the way, have your read her short story, The Lottery? Very chilling.


    1. I haven’t but I want to ad I’ve read about the reaction it. I’m going to work my way through Jackson’s writing. I’m so pleased to have found another fan!


  3. I think this is a good book, but that the TITLE is one of the all-time greats – sends a shiver down the spine, and how could you not want to know what it means? I bought it based solely on the title many years ago: I had never heard of it or the author before. Not my usual reading, but I wasn’t disappointed.


  4. Julia Miller

    Hi Sarah! Agree, Shirley Jackson is a wonderful writer! You will like Hill House, I feel sure. It is the definitive haunted house story in my opinion. Jackson is also a marvelous writer of creepy, disturbing short stories too.


  5. It is a belting story. It also made a great film – The Haunting – produced in 1964 and adapted from the novel, and a very effective play which we produced on recently at TLT. I”m sure you’ll enjoy the book.


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