‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’

A classic thriller with a twist


Audrey Lippert

The eerie short novel ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ was released in 1962 to critical acclaim and is still a cherished classic today.

With Halloween fast approaching, there is nothing better than a bone chilling tale to get you in that fall spirit. ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ was the final book written by acclaimed author Shirley Jackson. She was well known for the book turned Netflix TV series ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, and short story ‘The Lottery’. Jackson’s well written final publication whisks you away into the unsettling world of Mary Kathrine Blackwood, a young woman whose entire family was murdered save for herself, her sister Constance, and her uncle Julian. Though not downright terrifying, ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ leaves it’s readers feeling extremely uneasy. It’s air of uncertainty draws readers in but it’s neglect for any true conclusion leaves them wanting more. 


The lack of supernatural elements makes it a great starter book for those entering the horror/thriller genre. Throughout the book Mary Kathrine contends with rude townspeople and her own superstitions as well as her ailing Uncle along with a few unwelcome visitors. Every turn is full of strange details that make you wonder about not only the sanity of dying Uncle Julian but also of the main character, Mary Kathrine, herself.


The Blackwood sisters and their Uncle Julian have been living alone in their large family estate for six years. They rarely leave and never have visitors with the exception of Mrs. Wright. Mary Kathrine goes out every once in a while, but only to get groceries. After she was acquitted for the murder of her family, no one has seen her older sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian is apparently too sick to leave the home. The book throws it’s readers into the mind of Mary Kathrine, who is obsessed with the routine of her life and protecting her sister. 


Mary Kathrine’s strange ways and habits are a focal point of the book. Her thoughts and actions are constantly changing and in question by the people around her. The mystery regarding the death of the Blackwood family is ignored for most of the book. It is brought up at the beginning and explained at the end, but is largely forgotten about in the middle. It should have been addressed earlier and more in depth. The first chapter introduced it, and readers start to try to identify the killer. Unfortunately, the book quickly transitions and all the sudden it doesn’t really matter. At the end the murderer is revealed but once again the book transitions and leaves readers questioning the murderer’s motives without getting anything close to an answer.


Regardless of the partially abandoned plot line ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is an excellent classic thriller. It’s short length is both a strength and a weakness, making it both an accessible classic for those who don’t want to invest months into a book, but can leave readers wanting more. The perfect book for a quiet evening in front of a fireplace, ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is a wonderfully suspenseful book with interesting characters that will leave you constantly looking over your shoulder.