We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 17, 2013
Shirley Jackson is definitely known for exploring some pretty dark and neurotic themes in her works. Her best known work, The Lottery, horrified readers with its message of ostracism in rural communities, and her novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is widely considered the “quintessential haunted house story.” Being a die hard fan of her works, I decided it was time to read her final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Much like her previous works, We Have Always Lived in the Castle focuses on psychology and social isolation, but this one stands out as her masterpiece.

The novel is narrated by Mary Katherine Blackwood. She claims to be eighteen years old and lives with her older sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian in the house of their aristocratic family. Early on in her narration, it becomes apparent that something is not quite right.

You see, something terrible happened in the Blackwood house six years prior to the story, and Constance has not left the estate ever since. The Blackwood house lies on the remote edge of the small village, making Mary Katherine Constance’s only link to the outside world.

The two abide by a painstaking routine that they have followed for the last six years; much of the early narration goes into describing it, which only emphasizes how important it is to Mary Katherine that this routine is followed. As part of this routine, Mary Katherine goes into the village twice a week for groceries and library books where she is met with hostility by the villagers. There is an obvious social rift between the Blackwoods and the villagers, and this adds to the family’s sense of isolation.

As a consequence, there room for growth in the lives of Constance and Mary Katherine, but for Mary Katherine especially. She soon proves herself to be an unreliable narrator and often does strange things you would not expect an eighteen year old to do, such as breaking things when angry and nailing items from around the house to trees for protection against change, but change is coming whether Mary Katherine likes it or not. Their long lost cousin has come to the estate and Constance, starved for contact with someone closer to her age, is immediately infatuated. Mary Katherine immediately takes it upon herself to make sure their cousin leaves and never returns before he can upset her world forever.

It makes for a fantastic read, and had I found myself still thinking about this book long after the last page. Shirley Jackson manages to reveal the basest aspects of human nature in a way that’s disturbing, but will keep you turning the pages. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but if you are a fan of the neurotic, then I’d recommend it.

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