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Review: We have always lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

Genre: Classic Horror Published: Penguin Classics, 1962 My Rating: 3.5 stars

“Fate intervened. Some of us, that day, she led inexorably through the gates of death. Some of us, innocent and unsuspecting, took, unwillingly, that one last step to oblivion. Some of us took very little sugar.”

We have always lived in the Castle has Shirley Jacksons signature style all over it. A small cast of unusual and mentally unstable characters, who’ve experience a disturbing event, set against the background of an isolated home, with a possible hint of the supernatural. The story focusses on what remain of the Blackwood family, after the mysterious poisoning of the sugar bowl at dinner ends the lives of 4 of the 7 family members, several years ago. Ever since the remaining three family members have been living in elective isolation from the rest of the village, who mistrust, accuse, ridicule but also fear them. Constance, the eldest sister, is basically an emotional wreck after being accused, but later acquitted of the murders. She suffers from agoraphobia and doesn’t leave the house anymore. She now desperately tries to create her own little paradise in the same house that has witnessed all this tragedy. Uncle Julian, who survived the ordeal because he only takes very little sugar, is left both mentally and physically damaged by the poisoning. Wheelchair bound, often forgetful and disorganized, he spends his time obsessively recounting and documenting the affair, leaving no room for anything else in his life. Lastly, eighteen year old sister Merricat seems frozen in her emotional development from the moment of the tragedy. As our narrator, she often reads like a twelve-year-old, with her ways of childlike silliness, magical thinking and a quite limited and self-centered view of the world. The characters, as in any Shirley Jackson work, are the biggest strength of the novel. All of them are wonderfully quirky, without being so out there that they become too unrelatable. All of them have a unique type of insanity, and the way Jackson portrays this is both harrowing, upsetting, interesting and funny at the same time. I also (again) loved Shirley Jacksons writing style, combining darker themes with quirkiness and black humor. However, this wasn’t my favorite book by her. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between We have always lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House, and felt the former fell a little short on some of these comparisons. For example: the atmosphere and feeling of isolation in Haunting of Hill House was spot on in my opinion. We have Always lived in the Castle started off strong in this regard, but lost that feeling towards the end. Also, purely based on personal taste, I didn’t connect to the characters as much as I did in Haunting of Hill House. This is however, a book that I can see myself thinking about a few months from now. These weird characters, their messed up coping mechanisms and even the almost delusional happiness they create for themselves in the end are something that may occupy my mind for a long time.

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