We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

lived-in-castleYep, I digging way into the backlist for this one – 1965. I will admit that before I started blogging I don’t think I’d ever heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Then last year, it seemed that everyone was talking about it. It’s by Shirley Jackson, who you probably think you’ve never heard of, but you have. She wrote The Lottery, a short story you undoubtedly read in high school or college and it blew your mind.

With The Lottery in mind, I was prepared for We Have Always Lived in the Castle to be a little shocking. I read the whole thing waiting for the big shock to happen. It didn’t. It is a fairly straight forward story about two sisters who live in a big, old house at the end of town. One of the girls was tried, and acquitted,  six years earlier for the untimely deaths of the rest of her family. The sisters have isolated themselves from the world around them yet the town continues to be interested in what goes on at their ‘castle’. And of course, something happens to disturb the equilibrium that has been established between the castle and the town, but I’m not going to tell you what happens.

We Have Always Live in the Castle is a quick read – barely more than a hundred pages – and the plot keeps it moving along nicely. For those interested in the craft of writing, it would be a great piece to study. But to be perfectly honest, I was expecting a little more from it. So many bloggers have been raving about it, but I thought it was just good, not great.

Who would like this book? This is clearly one of those novels you have to read if you want people to take your knowledge of American literature seriously. The edition I read had a foreword by Jonathan Lethem and it did a good job of contextualizing the novel within the American canon. I would also recommend this novel to fans of the gothic. Although it was set in Connecticut, I couldn’t help but picture it in the moors of northern England. Maybe my current geography is rubbing off on me? But it is sufficiently creepy to be placed in gothic genre.

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19 Comments

  1. Like you, I didn’t know who Shirley Jackson was before joining the blogging community. I’ve seen this book pretty much everywhere last year… It intrigued me, but I forget about it. Now that you review We Have Always Lived In The Castle, I really want to discover this author. Maybe with The Lottery, which I’ve never heard of!

  2. Shirley Jackson also wrote two absolutely wonderful memoirs about family life — Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons. I’m not sure if they’re still in print, but I still have my mother’s old copies and have read and reread them. Very interesting when contrasted with her fiction!

  3. when I read The Lottery I was thoroughly blown away – especially when I realized it was published in 1948! I believe I will add this one to my October pile as I do really like gothic! wonderful review and we can compare notes when I read it! 🙂

  4. I have one of Shirley Jackson’s novels on my to-read pile (The Bird’s Nest–I’m waiting to read it around Hallowe’en to make it rather festive 😉 ) but I also have this book and a number of her other stories on my wishlist. Great review! (and good to know that it’s also a quick read 😉 )

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