WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Released: October 31, 2006 (First published in 1962)
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★★


Taking readers deep into a labyrinth of dark neurosis, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the struggle that ensues when a cousin arrives at their estate. 

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods – until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.


WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE is a Gothic fiction classic by Shirley Jackson, first published in 1962. Something I love about Jackson’s writing is that I’m never sure if there are paranormal forces at work or not. You get an eerie feeling that something unnatural must be going on – things are just too weird – or maybe not?

This is the story of the surviving members of the Blackwood family, told from the point of view of younger sister Merricat. The whole “sugar bowl” event made them outcasts to the rest of the town. Merricat, older sister Constance, and old Uncle Julian spend their days isolated in the family estate. Through Julian’s ramblings, we learn bits and pieces of what happened to the rest of the family.

This book is a great example of quiet horror – character driven, and leaving the reader with a lot to think about. It wasn’t until the end when I could look at the big picture and see how disturbing the Blackwood situation was. Chilling.

Short Story Review: THE LOTTERY by Shirley Jackson

TheLottery
Original Publication: The New Yorker
Publication Date: June 26, 1948
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★★★


The Lottery is a short story by Shirley Jackson which caused quite an uproar when it was published in 1948. It’s about an annual lottery held in a seemingly idyllic village, and readers don’t find out the winner’s prize until the end.

On the day of the drawing, the weather is gorgeous, and the townspeople happily gather in the square for the drawing, laughing and chatting amongst themselves. They talk about how this event has been a part of their village’s history for as long as anyone can remember, and though surrounding towns are doing away with the lottery, this particular village doesn’t want to mess with tradition.

This tale is short, but it packs quite a punch. It only took reading a couple of paragraphs before I got an ominous feeling about the whole thing, and the conclusion was nothing but disturbing. While a 21st century reader may or may not be as affected by the ending as the original audience, the underlying message of Jackson’s story is just as relevant today as ever. The Lottery is definitely worth reading a time or two.

R.I.P. IX Readalong: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson

HauntingHillHouse
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Released: January 1959
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★★


The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre.

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.


The R.I.P. IX group read of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is hosted by The Estella Society.

I’ve wanted to try Shirley Jackson’s work for a long time, and now I have! THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is billed as a horror classic, though in my opinion, it was eerie but not scary. After finishing the book, I’m left with several questions without definite answers, like who (or what) exactly was doing the haunting — the house itself, the doctor and his test subjects, or something else? Was anything supernatural actually going on, or were the unexplained events a figment of an unreliable narrator’s imagination? I have my own theory, but I won’t share because of spoilers.

THOHH is a well-crafted psychological thriller that makes readers decide for themselves what went down at Hill House. I enjoyed Ms. Jackson’s straight-forward writing style, and how she was able to make something as innocuous as a cold spot on the floor downright spooky. The characters were okay. They all irritated me to some degree, and I also thought that the dialogue between characters could get pretty unrealistic and silly, like “Oh, Nell, my Nellie!” or some such. The character I liked the most was the housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley. I loved her totally weird ways.

Overall, I enjoyed reading THOHH, and I can see why the book has been a big influence on the horror genre since its publication in 1959.