We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We have always lived in the Castle

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”

So much praise for this little book. Could it possibly live up to expectations? Of course it could. And I knew it would from that wonderful opening paragraph.

Merricat (well how would you abbreviate Mary Katherine ?!) is a quite wonderful narrator – engaging, unreliable and utterly unique. And her tale is quite extraordinary.

But I’m not going to say too much about that tale. Much has been written already. And if you haven’t read the book you really should. And you will enjoy it more for knowing little beforehand.

Merricat lives in the family home with Constance, her elder sister and Julian, her elderly uncle. The rest of the family has died.


Merricat is the only member of the family who ever goes to town – to do necessary shopping. She is regularly jostled and jeered.


The arrival of a visitor prompts a series of events and revelations.


The answering of those questions is intriguing and compelling and will take you into a very strange and different world. A world were every detail, every charater, ever relationship is just perfectly executed.

The main revelation is guessable, but that really doesn’t matter. It just throws up more questions.

I started intigued and finished unsettled.

Praise more than justified, and expectations more than met.

10 responses

  1. I reviewed The Haunting of Hill House yesterday and found that similarly unsettling. Jackson builds suspense wonderfully well and makes the reader question what they have been told; the narration unreliable even when it isn’t in the first-person as it is with Merricat. Merricat is definite one of the most unique characters/narrators I have come across.

  2. This book has been on my tbr pile for so long – I am a bit scared of it actually ha ha! I really should just jump in – especially after yours and Clair’s reviews 🙂

    Can’t wait for your Jensen review and have you started the Iain Pears yet – I liked his Instance of the Fingerpost and am sorely tempted by his new one.

  3. I literally blogged about this one just today, I do like the cover you have it sort of suits the book exactly in a way.

    I think this is a great book and am definately reading more Jackson!

  4. Kathy – you must – it is!

    JoAnn – thank you – isn’t it wonderful?!

    Rachel – You really must. I didn’t think it could be as good as people said, but it was.

    Claire – I have The Haunting of Hill House out of the library, but I want to leave a gap between the two books. As a narrator I would put Merricat in the same league as Cassandra – I know I don;t have to tell you the book!

    Samantha – I sat on this one for a while, but when the darker evenings came I knew the time was right.I’ve finished The Rapture but I’m a little Lost for Words – in a good way – at the mement. I’m hoping to find time for Iain Pears next week.

    Simon – I bought the US Penguin edition before the UK reissues, and I have to say it is a much lovelier volume. It does seem to be the book of the moment!

  5. Jane, Cassandra at the Wedding?! I haven’t read it yet but I have it lined up for a themed-weekend of reading in a few weeks when I have a wedding to attend. I am very much looking forward to the book!

  6. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: November 7, 2009 : Semicolon

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