Atmospheric and haunting: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [REVIEW]

we-have-alwaysWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
First published in 1962
Tags: Adult, Classics, Gothic, Horror

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | B&N 

Source: Purchased

Rating:  photo four stars_zps2ktftgcp.png

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

First off I just have to say how much I love this particular edition of the book. The cover is beautiful and creepy, and the edges of the pages are frayed so they look old and worn. Gorgeous. My original plan with this had been to get it on my kindle, but I was powerless to resist it when I saw it in a bookstore. RIP wallet. 

Second, this is such an atmospheric book. It’s beautiful and gothic, but don’t be mistaken, this book (probably) won’t scare you, it’s not that kind of horror book. The horror is subtle and psychological, you won’t find anything supernatural here. If you go into it expecting that then you might be disappointed. It left me with a haunting feeling. 


This book is all about being an outcast and shunned from society. 18 year old Merricat and her older sister Constance Blackwood live on a huge estate with their uncle Julian. There’s been a tragedy in the house where four family members died of arsenic poisoning. Constance was blamed but eventually acquitted for the murders. The town, however, doesn’t forget as easily and poor Constance never leaves the house anymore because of her crippling agoraphobia. 

We see how the town still blames Constance especially through the children, who have created a song/rhyme about it that they taunt Merricat with. I’m honestly obsessed with this rhyme, I love it. I randomly get it stuck in my head. 

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!

Merricat, the narrator, is the most interesting character though. Her narrative voice is incredibly distinct, I loved the writing style a lot. Merricat is eighteen years old, but mentally comes across as a lot younger. She’s naive, childlike, and does a lot of strange and childish things, and is so unreliable as a narrator. I love me some unreliable narrators, and if you do as well you should definitely pick this up.

Merricat cares a lot about Constance, and Constance cares a lot about her; their relationship is so precious. They cling to each other, huddled together, as the world crashes around them and the townspeople force them further and further into a corner. However Merricat is perfectly fine with it being her and Constance against the rest of the world. Her naive view of the world is at times very chilling. 

What I think is really interesting about this book, that I only realized when I was finishing it, is that the story is about how a house becomes haunted. Yes, there’s nothing supernatural in this story, but ultimately it’s still about a haunted house. You’ll just have to read it to figure out what I mean. 

If you’re intimidated by classics but would like to read one I would really recommend this. It’s short, and it has an intriguing plot and amazingly interesting characters. It doesn’t have a complicated vocabulary so it’s easy to read. I wish I read this while I was still in university, I’d have written an essay on it. 

The ending is creepy and depressing, but left me wowed. 

“Oh, Constance,” I said, “we are so happy.”

me before you review blog

I also have to add that IT’S BEING MADE INTO A MOVIE IN 2017. I AM SO EXCITED. Taissa Farmiga’s playing Merricat and I can’t imagine that going wrong. 
Have you read this book? What did you think? What’s your favorite classic? 
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6 thoughts on “Atmospheric and haunting: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson [REVIEW]

  1. Anna @MyBookishDream says:

    I really want to read this book, I have heard amazing things about it! I’m currently reading a short story collection by Shirley Jackson and I’m loving her writing style. And I agree that the horror in her books subtle and psychological is. And I absolutely LOVE that about it! I’m definitely going to be picking up We Have Always Lived In The Castle, I just need more of her stories in my life. Great review! 🙂


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