Shirley Jackson and Her Subtle, Masterful Creepiness

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Just two weeks ago, I purchased a copy of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a now-classic novel that was originally published in 1962. This was Shirley Jackson's final book before she died in 1965, and it's a book I've repeatedly told myself to pick up. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

This eerie tale is narrated by Merricat Blackwood who lives on their family estate with her sister, Constance, and their uncle. There used to be seven Blackwoods in their estate until one night, a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl. Later, after Constance was acquitted of the murders, she has returned home and it's Merricat's mission to protect her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers in the town. They happily stayed put in their home until their cousin, Charles, appears. Only Merricat can see the danger and she must try every possible way to keep Constance away from him.

The premise is enough to capture any reader's attention; it is full of intrigue and mystery! Add to that the never ending praise this novel has gotten over time and I found myself expecting something from this book as I was reading it. I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to think. I spent most of my time trying to find the 'creepy parts' that everyone keeps talking about. I was waiting for the horror part of the novel. It didn't come for me, and when I finished it, I felt disappointed because I wasn't creeped out at all. I mean, yes, it was perfectly paced, excellently told, effortlessly written, and it was so easy to read and get through. However, something seemed to be missing for me while I was reading it.

Then that night, I found myself laying in bed, ready to sleep, but unable to, as images of the Blackwoods sisters kept creeping into my mind. It was such an uncomfortable situation, being bothered by a story I thought I was done with. I even ended up having a dream about some events in the book. When I woke up from my dream, I felt disturbed.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, Shirley Jackson proved to be a master at creating subtle, eerie moments that will sneakily creep up on you when you least expect it. As the reader, you will surrender yourself and be lost in the world Shirley Jackson created. You might be like others who will get lost in her world while reading it or you could be like me, who won't experience the book until right after. Either way, her stories will feel real. They will be raw and they will make you feel something; it's incredibly immersive, sometimes uncomfortably so. It left me disturbed, but also wanting more from Shirley Jackson. What a fantastic writer and storyteller, and I'm so happy I finally got around to reading this. It's been a long time coming.


  1. I am glad you enjoyed this one so much! I have yet to read anything by Shirley Jackson. I like the sound of this one. I like it when those eerie moments sneak up on me.

  2. I haven't read a Shirley Jackson book (unless you count The Lottery). I have to change that - I love the sound of all her books. And your review makes me want to pick it up now. This sounds very atmospheric.

  3. It's funny that you weren't creeped out when you read the story, but were later. I felt the same way about this book. The more I thought about it, the creepier it was. I think part of it is that it's told in such a straightforward way. They don't see themselves as creepy, so their story doesn't come across that way. Then you get a little distance from it and that feeling seeps in. So good!

  4. I very much enjoy subtle creepy, and I had a similar experience to the novel as you; it wasn't an immediate sense of horror. It took awhile.

  5. I love books that can get under your skin like that. I haven't ready any Shirley Jackson -- I'll admit, the cartoonish cover of this one I see most often sort of weirds me out -- but maybe I'll get to it this fall.

    1. I get why it's made to look like a cartoon in a way. It's very non traditional in terms of its creep factor like mentioned. Just so different.

  6. ooh sounds intense. i was just feeling nostalgic and looking over my blog and checked out my blog list and hopped over. makes me happy that you're still blogging. keep the passion burning. ill always feel a little regretful for losing mine. see you around jillian <3