We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

Shelved: Classic (Gothic)
Published: 1962
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #1
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

This is my first post for the 2016 Classics Challenge (I’m a little late!) – sign up and join 400+ other people in reading one classic each month.

“I remember that I stood on the library steps holding my books and looking for a minute at the soft hinted green in the branches against the sky and wishing, as I always did, that I could walk home across the sky instead of through the village.” 

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.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not quite sure when I discovered Shirley Jackson. It might have been when I was looking up classic horror stories and came across The Haunting of Hill House. I decided to buy We Have Always Lived in the Castle after it was Waterstones’ Rediscovered Classic.

WHY I Chose to Read It
It was included in my Pick My December Classic poll and came second to The Hundred and One Dalmatians. It received such high praise that I made sure to pick it up in January.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s actually a little struggle to think about why this is a classic, aside from that it’s dark Gothic literature at its best. It feels like a story that will never become dated.

“I would have to find something else to bury here and I wished it could be Charles.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I’m not sure what I expected from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Goodreads describes it as ‘horror’, but that doesn’t feel correct to me. It’s a bit Gothic and dark. It’s a bit dreamy, and a little crazy. It hints at something not quite right. But it’s not scary.

Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the 18-year-old protagonist who tells the story of the Blackwoods. She tells us their history and how they came to be. She tells us about life, living with her uncle Julian, beloved sister Constance, and dutiful cat Jonas. She’s honest about her anger towards the rest of the world after her sister was accused (and then acquitted) of murdering their parents. She’s a fascinating character – with one of the best names I’ve come across. Shirley Jackson’s poetic writing works perfectly with Merricat’s often troubling thoughts.

I really enjoyed Merricat’s commentary on day-to-day life. Going into the village; buying groceries; living in an impressive house; and cooking and baking and eating. It’s all wonderfully described and the twists and turns are revealed as plainly, and without drama, as the rest of their daily routine. It’s a calm, dreamy story contrasted with Merricat’s hostility and frustration. As the reader, we shouldn’t understand. Merricat is, after all, incredibly unreliable But we do. When Charles arrives, we feel what she feels. And she is very, very angry.

WILL It Stay A Classic
Yes – Shirley Jackson’s writing still is enjoyed by many. It feels timeless.

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who like dark stories with complex and unreliable narrators. People who enjoy beautiful and poetic writing. People who are in the mood for a short classic.

“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.” 

10 thoughts on “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Classic #1)

  1. I read this recently too, kept hearing about it and thought I needed to read it.
    Dark, Gothic fairytale with a really sinister centre. I thought it was so well written. I think I need to read some more Shirley Jackson.

  2. This sounds very interesting! Have you read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson? That’s the only thing I’ve read from her so far, but it was very good. It is rather dark as well. If you’re looking for more Shirley Jackson, I highly recommend it. :)

  3. I love, love, love this book! Shirley Jackson is a genius at writing ‘crazy’. I enjoyed your review, Stacey. 😀

  4. I have never read anything Gothic. This sounds like a good book, interesting story line. I will try and get the book. I should also take up the Classic challenge, its one genre that i haven’t really explored.

    Awesome review.

  5. I’m planning on reading this book in March also for a classic challenge :D
    I own it for a while now and I think it’s finally time to read it.
    Nice review!

  6. I really love this book, it’s one of my favorite Gothic stories! I’m glad you liked it, and I’m excited to read your thoughts on other Shirley Jackson books!

  7. This book is on my to read list! Last year I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and enjoyed the story right up until the end which left me a little confused :/ Does anyone know if the house was really haunted?!

    Any who, I’ve decided it’s not to late to join your classics challenge for 2016 and considering I unintentionally read a classic in January I’m right on track! In Jan I listened to the audiobook of Don Quixote read by Robert Whitfield. I loved it, the writing style is clever and hilarious!

  8. Fantastic book! Glad to see people getting the word out about Shirley Jackson more – I feel lots more people should know about her!

  9. Oh gosh, this book is just fabulous……

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