27 Feb 2018

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

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Author: Shirley Jackson


Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.

My Thoughts:

Shirley Jackson's intriguing short novel about a not-just-slightly disfunctioning family sent chills down my spine. This dark and somewhat eerie tale is not so much about a haunted house as the making of one.

The Blackwood family hasn't been whole for a while. Most of its members are dead, simply because they liked sugar on their berries. The ones who live – Constance, Merricat and Uncle Julian – do so in the constant shadow of that unfortunate evening when everything ended... and began.

Being poisoned by arsenic is not a painless way to go they say, but being the talk of the village is not a painless way to live, either. Although the sisters and their uncle are outcasts, they are also the biggest sensation in the village they're trying to stay away from. 

Their dark and scandalous past baffles yet at the same time excites the people. They are local legends of the spooky variation; even children singsong the Blackwoods' sin in the ear of poor Merricat twice a week when she has to do her run in the village to make sure she and her sister won't go hungry up in the house.

Like it wouldn't be enough, one day Charles, their cousin arrives to rekindle old family bonds. He is pushy about matters like their returning into society, and his eagerness to wheedle himself into Constance's confidence unnerves Merricat. He talks too much about the money the sisters keep shut away in a box upstairs. In the end Merricat decides to turn to drastic measures to make Charles disappear from their lives.

The dialogues in the book are brilliant. The information about the fatal dinner comes to the reader in small drops through broken conversations and sentences cut in half. It really is like a jigsaw puzzle that you place together with the turning of the pages.

Shirley Jackson creates a very peculiar atmosphere while describing the three remaining members of the Blackwood family in their isolation. I as reader felt the setting claustrophobic at times, especially towards the end. The deliberate attempt of Ms Jackson to put you in the shoes of the girls works out very well.

I also have to mention the black humour that is sprinkled all over the pages of this quaint story. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is darkly entertaining in its morbidity. The kind of comical quality it represents may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy dark jokes I would definitely give this book a try.

While it only takes a few hours to read the novel, it will stay with you much longer than that. I can only recommend picking it up if the synopsis or what I've just told you about it appeals to you.

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