This is my review of We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson.
I saw this book online (I spend more time reading about reading than actually reading, if that makes sense). It’s a short read, so I decided to give it a shot, and went in completely blind- I had no idea about the theme, genre, nothing. And I got lucky! This is a very very good story.
Mary Katherine Blackwood (aka Merricat) and her sister Constance live with their ailing Uncle Julian in a large old house. Which seems fairly normal, except for the fact that it isn’t. Merricat is very strange (understatement!) and Constance has not left the house in six years. Eventually, we hear the whole story- all the remaining members of their family were poisoned six years ago, with Constance the main suspect. She was acquitted due to lack of evidence, but their neighbours are still suspicious.
One fine day, their cousin Charles Blackwood stops by for a visit. He seems to be interested in the family fortune that’s lying around in a safe, and Merricat is upset that her perfect little world is being disrupted.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there. But trust me, this story is super spooky, in a Gothic, insane way. You’ll spot the twist far before it arrives, but it’ll scare you nonetheless.
The book left some things open to interpretation. Witchcraft or harmless superstition? What were cousin Charles’ true intentions? I was curious enough to do a Google search. The beauty of literature is that noone can say anything for sure. But one interesting piece of information I found was that Shirley Jackson herself suffered from severe agoraphobia while she was writing this novel, which probably accounts for the general anti-social behaviours and themes in the book. Unfortunately, this was to be her last published work before her death.
4.5/5 from me, and I can’t wait to read her other books.
Bonus: Shirley Jackson has also written a controversial, famous short story called The Lottery that was first published in The New Yorker. It initially reminded me of the English readers we studied in school- short, simplistic, with vague commentary on society- and then BAM, it gets dark fast. The most inoffensively offensive short story I’ve ever read.