We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson

Book cover

I enjoyed this and thought it was better than The Haunting of Hill House. Mainly, I liked that no actual supernatural events transpire in WHALITC, and the creepy atmosphere is just built up through Merricat’s obviously disturbed nature (attempts at magic, casual mental narrations of seeing various villagers dying on the ground). My favorite part of the atmosphere-setting was the description of the cellar filled with hundreds of unopened jars of food put up by generations of Blackwood women, which were carefully preserved even though most of them would kill you if you tried to eat them by now.

If I had any takeaway from this book, it would be its general portrayal of selfishness and of perspective-taking. We see different varieties of selfishness embodied in multiple ways–most obviously Charles Blackwood, who shows up to try to get the family fortune. Then we have the villagers’ resentment of the Blackwoods’ fencing off of their land and making people walk around. We have the nominally friendly village ladies who come around for tea, who are really there either out of their own prurient interest or out of a desire to control Constance. And of course we have Merricat, who systematically offs everyone else until she can have her beloved sister Constance to herself. As for Constance herself–as her name suggests, she stands in for a total lack of selfishness, a complete giving of herself to Uncle Julian and Merricat, even though she’s well aware that Merricat intentionally murdered the rest of the family. Because the book is told from Merricat’s perspective, we see the other varieties of selfishness much more negatively. But I think in part Jackson is just trying to show how difficult it is for people to live together without trying to control one another or giving in to that control.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars