We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson


I’m going to try not to make this review too negative.

We Have Always Lived in a Castle is APPARENTLY Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece, “her greatest book” according to Donna Tartt. Whatever its appeal, I didn’t see it. We Have Always Lived in a Castle is the story of two sisters and an uncle, they live in a grand house where most of their family was killed after someone put arsenic in the sugar. Constance was acquitted of murder and now cares for her little sister Mary Catherine and their uncle Julian. The village hate them. The Blackwood family have become a fairy tale, they are the tale told to scary children and keep them from mischief.

It was a promising start. The first ninety or so pages where establishing the relationship between these two sisters. Constance’s reluctance to leave the house and Merricat’s determination to keep up appearances. Cousin Charles arrives out of the blue and insistently asks the value of the possessions in the house and the cold hard cash that is kept in the safe. His intentions are obvious and naturally Merricat doesn’t like him. Merricat is a strange child, she is our narrator and is not shy about her feelings. She pleases herself with thoughts of killing the raucous members of the village. I related to this a lot.

It was the ending that disappointed me the most. I was hoping for a big climax, an explosion of frustration or something more sinister and supernatural. Unfortunately, the revolve of this story was lukewarm. However, I did enjoy reading it. Jackson has captured the tension of the house following the murders. Constance has a modest way of looking after herself, whereas Merricat has her own more unusual ways. It’s not quite sanity and it’s not quite insanity. It’s not quite grief and it’s not quite guilt. It’s distinctly average. It’s certainly not a “masterpiece of Gothic suspense”. (Joyce Carol Oates) I don’t want to contradict authors I admire, but you’re wrong.

I think I failed.