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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson
In Print
Penguin Book (1962)

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This entry created 19 May 2023. Last revised on 19 May 2023.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

214 pages.

Shirley Jackson, novelist and women magazine columnist, is today best remembered for her horror masterpiece, The Haunting of Hill House, which has been the inspiration for several movies and a cable series.

However, many of her fans consider this book to be her best. Like The Haunting, it is a tale told slowly, with many details left ambiguous, even at the end of the novel. Though it is a short novel, I did not find it a quick read.

Without giving the story away, the basic premise is that six years ago, someone poisoned the Blackwood family by putting arsenic in the sugar bowl. The Blackwood's daughter, Constance, was not poisoned and is put on trial for murder (she was the cook), but acquitted of the crime. She now lives in the old family house, separated from the village by land and fences, and never leaves. Also in the house are invalid Uncle Julian, the only survivor of the poisoning, and Mary Katherine (Merricat), Constance's younger sister who was not at the fateful family dinner. The story is told from Merricat's perspective.

The author does a remarkable job of giving the reader just a bit more information as each chapter goes by, keeping the mystery alive, until eventually something new happens: the visit of cousin Charles, who has an interest in Constance (or maybe her money)…

Along the way, the author provides lots of possibilities for the observant reader. Who poisoned the family? What was the motive? Are some of the characters ghosts? Does Merricat have magical powers? Why do the villagers hate the Blackwoods? Can Jonas the cat really talk?

This is a tale well told, and the ending truly puts the 'horrible' in horror.

Is there a hidden theme about sexual abuse? Maybe, the author likes to leave things ambiguous. Is there a lesbian theme? Well, there was a character in her other novel that most people see as lesbian, so again, maybe, but very subtle if at all.

Can you wargame it? Not that kind of book, though it makes me wonder if an 'ambiguous' wargaming campaign is possible. You thought you were Vikings pillaging France, then you find out you were Orcs all along.

Highly recommended if you enjoy atmospheric psychological horror. Still in print, and made as a film in 2019.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.