We Have Always Lived in the Castle

January 2, 2018

Author: Shirley Jackson.


Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

(Published Summary)

My Thoughts:

Merricat is eighteen years old, but sounds more like ten sometimes. She lives alone in a huge, old house with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian, where nothing ever changes… and she likes it that way. So the day her protections fail and Change arrives in the form of Cousin Charles, she buckles down to fight.

The real power of Shirley Jackson’s writing lays not so much in the plot as in the character. Not that there’s any problems with the plot, which is creepy enough as it is, but you have to hear it in Merricat’s matter of fact voice. It’s that straight forward, childish voice that will wrap you into her world, pull you in and in through those strange lenses.

When I’d just finished the book, I thought it was a happy ending. (The protagonist is, indeed, happy.) The further away I get from just-having-read it, the more the ending shifts in my mind as I realize how disturbing it really is. The whole book is like that. The entire time, I was half-expecting one of Merricat’s odd magics to do something. Even when it becomes clear that Charles is not affected by her smashing his mirror or burying protection – even though there is, in the end, absolutely nothing in the book outside of realistic-fic – Merricat sees magic around her, magic of protection and of cursing and of safety, and her voice is so strong.

Incredible writing. Lingeringly creepy, the kind that is still brushing your shoulders days afterwards.

Content Review:

Sexual Content: None.

Language: 7 d***, 5 derogatory terms, 1 hell

Violence: There are multiple references to a past murder when an entire family was poisoned. Character imagines people dying painfully (“I would have liked to come into the grocery one morning and see them all, even the Elberts and children, lying there crying with pain and dying.”) Villagers bully a girl several times: nothing physical, but name-calling and cruel teasing. Character starts a fire. A crowd of people smash up a house.


My first book read in 2018, and I’m sorting it as my Back-To-The-Classics classic by a female author! (Let’s buckle right down to those goals, friends.

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