Subtle, strange, and sad are the words that come to mind about We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson. It’s a classic for a reason, and immediately upon finishing the audiobook I wanted to listen again. It’s just that beautiful and heartbreaking. Don’t forget disturbing too.
We Have Always Lived in a Castle is timeless. Even though it was published in 1962, it feels like it could happen today. Jackson is considered to be an influence on many of today’s authors of horror. It’s easy to see that in this book. In fact, gothic horror is often referred to as a pleasing sort of terror, and Jackson’s book certainly fits that bill.
At the center of the story is a small family group—Uncle Julian, Constance, and Mary Katherine or Merrikat. They are what remain of the Blackwoods after a tragic poisoning seven years ago. Uncle Julian was injured in that incident, and has dementia. Constance, the older sister, is agoraphobic. She creates the constancy of their routine, and is the caregiver. Mary Katherine, the younger sister who’s just 15 or so, has some kind of mental illness. She does the family shopping and whiles away her days with Jonas the cat.
Every Blackwood is damaged goods, and perhaps that’s why it’s easy to sympathize with them. They suffer the loss of their family, and the taunting of their neighbors in the village. Jackson vividly shows the inhumanity of people in most of the villager voices.
Then one day a cousin appears on their doorstep. Charles is at loose ends after his own father dies. So he comes to “help” the Blackwood women, when most likely he just wants to help himself. He certainly upsets their tenuous apple cart, as he begins to force a kind of normalcy on the family. Merrikat in particular resists.
We Have Always Lived in a Castle reeled me in and deposited me directly into the center of the Blackwood family. Listening on audio only increases the book’s atmospheric nature. On the other hand, I’m wishing for a print copy to delve into Jackson’s symbolism and deeper meanings. I’ll be hunting for Jackson’s other works to read as well.
If you love horror, gothic literature, or damaged family tales this is the book for you. I loved it!