I found We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson on a list of ‘great short novels’ I write short, and so was struck by this list. I wanted to see how the best do it, and Shirley Jackson is certainly among the best. I think though, my expectations were off going into it. The Haunting of Hill House has been on my TBR list since the series came to Netflix, and the spoiler-free reviews I read of Castle were intriguing—lots of ‘OMG that twist!’ So I was quick to pick up a compilation of this, along with her other short stories and Hill House.
First thing that threw me was the book itself. It is a literal conglomeration of her works, Castle is the last story in the book, and 300 pages into the volume, it starts back on page 1. Very strange, but anyway, back to content.
The first half of this was drawn out- I realize now that this short novel was not a novel written short but more of a novella written long. It’s atmospheric for sure, you are pulled into the daily life of the sisters, along with their monotony, and what we would call today some OCD and agoraphobia. They hide from the townspeople after Constance is accused of poisoning the family; she is deemed not guilty, but it still throws a dark shadow over her and her sister.
About halfway through, we get a shake up when cousin Charles visits and threatens to uproot their existence. The pace picks up and the sisters double down on their enclosed life. We see Constance give in even more to her sister’s rituals and fanciful imaginings. We do get the ‘twist’ but it doesn’t really hit. It was fairly unexpected, but the realization has very little impact on the story so, for me, it hardly mattered. I spent the last third of the book waiting for something that felt minor in the end, and that left me disappointed.
I’m not saying it was bad by any means. It is definitely an older style of writing, but I can see how she wanted us to feel the closeness of their lifestyle and almost make it seem normal until we realize just how not-normal it is. To join in their mental instability, I suppose. But it wasn’t what I had expected from other reviews. I’m all about correctly set expectations, and I missed the mark on this one. I'll give it three and a half stars- I was certainly engaged for the latter half of the book, but I don’t think that this is the work of hers to write home about. I still look forward to exploring the other stories in the book.