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We Have Always Lived in the Castle: Book Review

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson.
Published: 1962, Viking Press.
Our Edition: 2010, Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Length: 146 Pages.
Genre(s): Gothic, Thriller.
Rating: 5/5.
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On the moon we wore feathers in our hair, and rubies on our hands. On the moon we had gold spoons.

The Blackwood family was once one of the most respected families in the village. That was up until one fateful evening; seven Blackwoods had sat down for their evening meal, but only three had survived. Someone had put poison in the sugar bowl, and the Blackwoods, blissfully unaware, poured it on their food.

The only ones to survive were Mary Catherine (Merricat), who had been sent to her room in disgrace; Uncle Julian, who had only consumed a slight amount of the sugar, and had survived, but spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair; and Constance, Merricat’s sister, who was once accused of committing the crime. Since then, the village has feared Constance, avoiding the Blackwood’s estate and telling rumours of the witch who lives up the road. Constance, meanwhile, refuses to leave the house. She spends her days caring for Uncle Julian, while eighteen-year-old Merricat performs errands in the village.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle takes us into the Blackwoods’ isolation, following the lives of the surviving members of the family and introducing us to the prejudicial stigma surrounding them. This is a story about the power of reputation, along with the strength of family. It is both a thriller, and an extremely personal, emotional narrative that transcends the bounds of the gothic genre.


The Review

One of the issues with the gothic genre is that it can be extremely varied, capable of including both gruesome horror narratives, and emotional thrillers that depict a more theoretical form of terror. We Have Always Lived in the Castle falls into the latter of these two categories; it is not a story that will leave you shivering under a blanket, but it might just cause a shiver to run up your spine. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to describe this story is to say that it is eerie. There is something strangely chilling about the Blackwoods’ isolation, as well as the way that Merricat describes it.

In fact, Merricat is an extremely curious character. She is eighteen-years-old, but she doesn’t act this way. It is as though the Blackwoods have been trapped in the past, preserved in the moment when most of their family was taken from them. The only difference is that, instead of the girls’ mother cooking and taking care of them, Constance has become the mother of Merricat. They will protect each other through everything, and it is this close relationship that makes this novel so interesting.

It is not a story based on its characters’ actions, but their personalities. They – and particularly Merricat – have such distinct personalities that they create a considerable amount of intrigue within the novel. Yet despite this, there is still some action in this story. Events occur around the Blackwoods that seem to test their relationships with one another. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that Merricat often doesn’t understand the things happening around her. For this reason, not every event in this novel is explained in detail; events are implied and speculated over, but everything is told in such a subjective manner that everything can be questioned.

I cannot more accurately describe the intricate beauty of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This is a story that will make you think – first to question, and then to reflect. It is rich in description, deeply emotional, and surprisingly compelling.

Our Rating


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