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

A friend of mine recently downsized her personal library and I happily scored a bunch of classic sci-fi, horror and fantasy. I had read a treatise on villains not that long ago and recognised this book when I saw it amongst her (millions of) books. It’s a small book, novella length really, so I got stuck into it.

I gave it 5 stars (although would have given it 4.5 stars if Goodreads allowed such things). I found the storytelling style to be very interesting. Merricat has a very formal tone, unusual compared with contemporary novels, but suiting the class divide that is clearly illustrated in the story. She discusses things in a manner of fact yet childish manner even though she is eighteen (in fact I forgot she was eighteen and was reading thinking she was much younger). I found her instantly sympathetic, and love that Shirley Jackson resisted telling us exactly what happened, because that would have been out of character for Merricat.

I found the character of Cousin Charles to be an insufferable jerk. Of course in 1962 his manner would probably have been typical of a man “taking charge of” his female relatives but I found myself wanting to punch him. Constance was a curiosity, filtered through the lens of Merricat, and Uncle Julian is a fabulous figure providing comic relief (indeed he made me laugh out loud in a few spots).

The funny thing is, I can definitely relate to Merricat’s idea of happiness. Hmmm. Is that a problem? 😉

I don’t quite know how to categorise this book. Is it horror? Not really, it’s maybe a psychological “thriller”? But not really. Not a thriller, exactly. Too quiet and plainly stated. But I loved it.

My favourite passage by far: “We were going to the long field which today looked like an ocean, although I had never seen an ocean; the grass was moving in the breeze and the cloud shadows passed back and forth and the trees in the distance moved. Jonas disappeared into the grass, which was tall enough for me to touch with my hands while I walked, and he made small crooked movements of his own; for a minute the grass would all bend together under the breeze and then there would be a hurrying pattern across it where Jonas was running.” (p. 52)

I can see, feel and hear that field!

Anyway, I recommend it, it is an easy and fast read, a gorgeous study in characterisation and the “slow reveal”.


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