We Have Always Lived in the Castle

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Book description

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin…

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Why read it?

15 authors picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

First published in 1962, the novel revolves around the lives of two sisters, Mary Katherine “Merricat” and Constance Blackwood, who live in isolation in their family mansion with their Uncle Julian after the rest of their family is poisoned with arsenic.

I loved this book because of how subtlety the plot develops—I devoured each page wanting to learn more about Merricat and the true story behind the poisoning of her family.

I read this as part of a Spooky October read, but it is way more than a quick, haunting read. It is a well-deserved classic. I much prefer it over Jackson’s more famous story, The Lottery.

It is gothic at its finest. A slow, burn creepy novel set in small-town Vermont that will keep you turning pages to find out how everything comes together in the end. Prepare to have your heartstrings tugged and goosebumps raised. 

I’m not sure anyone has written with such clarity about the everyday horror of social/cultural alienation better than Shirley Jackson.

I loved reading about the main character, Merricat, and her trips into town to purchase groceries and other common household goods. The pariah-like way she is received by the allegedly typical townsfolk is a theme I—admittedly to a much lesser degree—wanted to include in my own writing.  

Shirley Jackson’s last book, a novella, is considered by many to be her masterpiece. I never forgot first reading it as a young teenager, riveted by the unreliable narrator, Mary Catherine Blackwood (“Merricat”), and her practice of weaving magic spells around the house to keep the remains of her family safe from the prying eyes and hostilities of the townsfolk. A murder mystery lies at the core—half of her family were poisoned by arsenic put into the sugar bowland only she, her Uncle Julian, and her sister Constance survived. The tale ends with a conflagration set by Merricat,…

From Nancy's list on gothic tales of houses.

Known for her chilling short story, The Lottery, a classic once studied in every high school in America, Shirley Jackson’s work is diffused with horror; a horror that can be humorous at times, yet always understated and profound. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told from the peculiar perspective of eighteen-year-old Mary Katherine, AKA Merricat, about her isolated family and the wooded estate they hole up in. This is not a genre novel – not a stalker or slasher of teens, no gore to speak of – but insightful, funny, compassionate horror at its best. Funny, compassionate…

Last, but most important to me, is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an awesomely deceptive novel about two outcast sisters in a decaying mansion. Murder, resentful villagers, and a love interest who threatens the status quo power this tale. It’s funny as hell, its devious narrator is a genius at revelation, and the story itself is gripping and true to human nature. A small gift that constantly reveals new layers and complexity, and a fantastic read to boot. 

From Susan's list on that only get better with time.

From an expert horror storyteller, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is my favorite Shirley Jackson novel. Unlike the more famous The Haunting of Hill House, Castle is not about a haunted house. But there is something strange and mysterious happening within the walls of Blackwood House. Instead of ghostly spirits, the mansion on the outskirts of town is possessed by secrets. Secrets that have ostracized two sisters and their crippled uncle following the suspicious arsenic poisoning deaths of half the Blackwood family. Reclusive older sister Constance is widely suspected of the crime, while young Merricat is subject…

I’m 51 and my twin sister and I have always lived together, which some people find peculiar. Sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood also live together, shut off in infamy after one of them is accused of murdering their parents, aunt, and brother. They spend tranquil days in the remnants of the family estate, a place that was spooky even before the old house burned half to the ground and got ransacked by villagers. Shirley Jackson’s slim novel, one of her lesser-known works, is a primer of introvert goals disguised as a gothic fairy tale. Even though there’s a 50% chance…

Because it’s been copied a lot since its release, the book might not shock readers today, but in its time, the idea was ground-breaking. I read it as a teen and was fascinated with “Merricat" Blackwood, her sister Constance, and the mystery of how their family was poisoned. The rhyme chanted by local children whenever Merricat leaves home has stuck in my head for decades.

“Merricat,” said Constance, “would you like a cup of tea?”
“Oh no,” said Merricat, “you'll poison me.”
“Merricat,” said Constance, “Would you like to go to sleep down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”

Though her Haunting of Hill House, is much more famous, I actually found that to be an underwhelming read. And had given up on Jackson as a result, until catching the Netflix film version of Castle. That muted but creepy take on this material made me want to read the novel, and I’m glad I did, as it proves to have been a faithful adaptation. The tone here somehow walks a perfect line between understated and menacing throughout the novel, while also maintaining this sense of the young narrator’s childlike whimsy. So much so that you don’t even…

From Jason's list on horror featuring a cursed location.

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