We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

A quick rundown… An eerie Gothic novella about the remnants of a family after most died in suspicious circumstances.

Strengths: Chilling and keeps you guessing!

Weaknesses: Sometimes a little too cold hearted for me.

Why I read it: A Popular Penguin.

Pages: 158

Published: 2010 (original 1962)

Publisher: Penguin Australia

Setting: Country house

Rating: 6.5 out of 10


In my quest to read as many of the Popular Penguin series as possible, I thought this would be a Gothic tale in the tradition of the Bronte sisters or more recently, Kate Morton. A slim volume (probably more of a novella), this book is eerie with Gothic overtones. As the book continues, I got more and more of a sense of unease until its creepy conclusion.

The book is told by Merricat, or Mary Katherine Blackwood. Her family – or what remains of it, after a number of them were poisoned after a dinner party – live outside a village where they are shunned by the townspeople. Merricat’s sister, Constance, was acquitted of murdering the family, but there is a lot of suspicion that remains. When a cousin comes to visit the Blackwoods, things begin to take a turn for the worse with disastrous consequences.

Merricat’s character is slowly revealed through the course of the book and my opinion of her changed as each revelation appeared. Perhaps she’s not just young and immature, perhaps Constance is innocent, and perhaps the poisoning wasn’t an accident. The reaction of the townspeople to the eccentric Blackwoods is disturbing, as most of them as easily led when the xenophobia gets out of control. The things they do to the Blackwoods are disgusting – and I’m not sure that leaving them food on the doorstep as a sign of remorse is adequate redemption.

This book is unsettling. The reader is left to draw a lot of conclusions for themselves, as nothing is spelled out. That adds to the haunting feeling, but also left me wondering whether I’d come to the right conclusions. Who was the murderer? Was it ‘right’ for the rest of the family to act the way they did? Exactly what is Merricat’s mental state? Constance’s?

A lot of people rate this book as one of their favourites. I wouldn’t count myself as being one of that number. I enjoyed The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan more as a tale of an unreliable narrator (although it definitely had no Gothic flavour to it)! It is, however, a great example of how people can act disgustingly when confronted with something a bit out of the ordinary.


8 thoughts on “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Add yours

  1. Haha, I’m one of those people who absolutely adore this book! It’s creepy as hell but in a wonderfully slow and understated manner. At least you enjoyed it, do try her short stories as well 🙂

  2. I love reading all the blogs on this book because everyone has different ideas of the characters and of what happened to them. It’s wonderful actually, so like you, I liked that things weren’t spelled out and it did enhance the eerie feeling.

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