Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

“Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Oh, no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.”

The book by Shirley Jackson tells the story of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and Constance Blackwood, two sisters who have cut themselves off from society and live in the Blackwood mansion. Their only companions are uncle Julian, a man on a wheelchair obsessed with writing his memoirs (as soon as he remembers them), and Jonas, a cat. The main reason why they live like that is that the Blackwood family is hated by the rest of the town, especially ever since Constance was accused of poisoning the rest of her family six years prior to the beginning of the book. Despite that, Constance, Julian, and Merricat live a happy life, away from others, and follow a peaceful and carefully maintained routine. The only contact they have to the outside world is whenever Merricat needs to go to the store to buy food.

Life for the Blackwood sisters suddenly changes with the unexpected arrival of their long-lost cousin, Charles Blackwood, who starts showing special interest in Constance. Merricat, hell-bent on keeping their lifestyle as it is, starts a series of mischievous deeds and rituals to try to make Charles, whom she considers a demon or a ghost, leave them.

The characters fulfil their function perfectly: they are all completely different from one another, but they all provoke the same feeling of unrest. Merricat’s thoughts, for example, are morbid but innocent, and she’s eighteen, but she sometimes behaves like a small, aggressive child. Constance, on the other hand, is quiet and pleasant, but the scandal that hangs over her makes one doubt her constantly. In short: every character has something that makes readers uncomfortable and forces them to question what they’re reading. Jackson’s tremendous ability to create such a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere reminded me of the Gothic novels of the nineteenth century that I love so much.

In only 146 pages Shirley Jackson engrosses us in a story full of suspense and bizarre sensations that force us to keep reading. From the very first paragraph, with Merricat introducing herself, her story, her preferences, and her dead family, the book keeps the reader in a Gothic atmosphere that lasts until the last line, which closes with words that are apparently innocent, but that leave a note of uneasiness in the back of our minds.

“Merricat, said Connie, would yo like to go to sleep? Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

It is a short novel, full of intrigue, secrets, dark wishes, and absurd situations. I enjoyed it quite a lot and I recommend it to anyone who likes modern classics and suspense stories.

  My edition:  Paperback, published in 2009 by Penguin Classics.
My edition: Paperback, published in 2009 by Penguin Classics.