Today it is my great pleasure to share my thoughts on the sleep stealing The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. My thanks go to publisher Century, and to Laura Brooke, for providing me with an advance copy for review. The book is out now, so here is what it’s all about:
About the Book
In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up.
In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note.
They’ve been dead for several days.
Who has been looking after the baby?
And where did they go?
Two entangled families.
A house with the darkest of secrets.
A compulsive new thriller from Lisa Jewell.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books
You know when you have one of those moments of realisation? That point in time where you sit and ponder how you could have been such a complete idiot. That’s me right now. Well that and someone doing a very good impression of a nodding dog. If this review makes no sense it is because I am typing it while half asleep, spending half of last night reading into the small hours so that I could finish this book. So does that make me an idiot? Well, no. It makes me a reader – we’ve all been there. No, what makes me an idiot is that this is the first book by Lisa Jewell that I have ever read and I realise now how absolutely bloody ridiculous it is that I’ve been missing out.
The Family Upstairs is an often intense, completely intriguing and highly complex mystery which spans over twenty years. Told from three points of view, that of main protagonist, Libby, a woman called Lucy and of Lucy’s brother, Henry, it is a sort of dual timeline story, only also not. Henry’s side of the story, whilst very much of the past, is more a recounting of memory, a retelling of his childhood if you like, whilst Lucy’s and Libby’s stories are very much of their present lives. The blending of the three tales is expertly done, the switch between them seamless rather than jarring, and the mounting sense of tension and unease it creates is perfect. It also created one of those moments in reading where, no matter how late, you are far more invested in the act of getting to the truth than you are in catching some sleep. At least it did for me.
This is the story of Libby, a young woman, not quite living her dream life, but getting by, who finds out, on her twenty-fifth birthday, that she has inherited a house in Chelsea. A house that carries a history she cannot possibly hope to understand yet, and a family she has never had the chance to meet. Adopted at the age of one having been abandoned in that same house, this is Libby’s chance to find out who she really is.
The heart of the story is Libby’s quest for the truth. It is a very intriguing story which we learn as much of through Henry’s recollection as we do Libby’s ability to investigate what happened. It is through the investigation that Libby meets Miller, a journalist who tried to lift the lid on the mysterious deaths twenty-four years earlier but who only really scratched the surface. I love the way that the author has played up to the attraction between the two. Not instantaneous, but something which builds over time, even though, as a reader, the chemistry was clear all along.
This is quite a dark story at times, one tinged with a sense of a cult-esque lifestyle and a kind of abuse, particularly against the children, which can be hard to read about at times. There are certain scenes which will stick in your throat, certain implications of the actions of the adult cuckoos in this particular nest, David and Birdie, that will make your skin crawl. David is the epitome of slick, holding Lucy and Henry’s mother in his thrall, and from the moment he enters their lives they are on a crash course to disaster. To the almost inevitable events which lead to Lucy inheriting the house.
The writing is superb, never giving away too much, always leaving you guessing, just enough to make you creep ever onward through the pages. I genuinely wanted to know what had happened, what picture we would be left with when the author had finished weaving those oh so delicate threads together. This is not a fast paced book – the first half is spent in creating the back story and introducing the key performers in this soon to be deadly dance. The pacing does pick up in the second half, as we waltz towards the conclusion, but still not massively so.
This is a mystery. A slow burning psychological thriller with very dark undertones, one which keeps the truth at bay until the very last possible moment. Although I had my suspicions about elements of the plot, seeing them confirmed was both satisfying and troubling at the same time. I certainly didn’t see the final revelations coming. And as for that final chapter – brilliant.
If this is the quality I can expect from Ms Jewell’s work, I’m going to have to find me some time to make it through the back catalogue. I have a feeling it will be worth it.
About the Author
Lisa Jewell was born in London. Her first novel, Ralph’s Party, was published in 1999. It was the best-selling debut novel of the year. Since then she has published another sixteen novels, most recently a number of dark psychological thrillers, including The Girls and Then She Was Gone (both of which were Richard & Judy Book Club picks). Lisa is a top ten New York Times and number one Sunday Times author who has been published worldwide in over twenty-five languages. She lives in north London with her husband, two daughters, two cats, two guinea pigs and the best dog in the world.