Monday, 9 September 2019

Book Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell.

Book: The Family Upstairs

Author: Lisa Jewell

Pages: 464

Publishers:  Atria Books/ Simon and Schuster

Read On: Kindle

How Long it Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: Be careful who you let in. 

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am. 

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them. 

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone. 

Things I Liked: 

1. This is the third book of Lisa Jewell's that I have read and as always her writing, world building and pace is just brilliant. The book is perfect read for a weekend, but mind you, you won't want to put it down. This book was my constant companion over the weekend and I kept wanting to return to this story and its people and unravel this mystery. So good. A good thriller is just what this particularly rainy weekend needed and I loved the time I spent with this book.

2. The premise was this book had me from the word go, a family moves in and the lives of the hosts change forever. And of course, the suicide pact and a healthy and happy baby left behind. There is so much to unpack and dive into, there wasn't a dull moment in this book. I loved all the little mysteries and loved that the premise and plot were everything I had hoped it would be.

3. Stories about families are my favourite things to read about, across genres, give me a meaty family saga and I am in. Here we have that and then some. In essence we have two families. The Lambs and the Thomsons. Two very different families that come to cohabit and mesh together. Apart from these two families we have the new family formed as a result of cohabiting of these people. The dynamics and power struggles within these units made for very interesting reading.

4. The book is told from three perspectives. One is Libby, a 25 year old who inherits a huge house in a posh neighbourhood on her birthday from her birth family and is thrown into the deep end of a mystery from her childhood. We see Libby, formerly named Serenity Lamb, grappling with all this new information and trying to find out more about her birth family and going about it in a sensible way, in a way I'd guess most of us would if we found ourselves in her place. I liked Libby, a lot. She is such a sensible and good person and I found myself rooting for her. I also liked Miller, a journalist who is helping her with her investigation into the past.

Our second perspective is that of Lucy, a single mother of two, struggling to make ends meet and homeless and helpless when we first meet her. Your heart breaks for Lucy and her kids. She has not had an easy life and seeing her trying her hardest to make a life for herself and her kids will have to cheering her on. I really, really enjoyed spending time with Lucy and seeing her side of the story. Mostly rooted in the present.

Our third perspective is Henry Lamb. We see most of the past events from his eyes and we see his family change and mould to the will of David and all the nefarious ongoings and see his rage and even sheer helplessness of a 11 year old. I found his chapters very interesting because it was here that the whole past was laid bare. We saw the 'cult' come together and how this family went from perfectly normal/ordinary to something truly sad and dysfunctional. Henry was also an interesting character on his own, he was odd and not all black and white and, by the end of the book, I had some very mixed feelings about him and his actions and motivations. But interesting to the end.

5. The book has a slight cult angle. And I LOVE all things cults. From both a psychological and sociological angle, what makes people give their free will to a charismatic leader? How do these cults work? While the cult size is small, only 8-10 people but the hallmarks of a cult are all there. This was more like a commune with but some very strict and off putting rules. Disturbing and incredibly interesting. I also liked how soon even the extraordinary becomes normal. Rules that you'd think you'd never abide by become your life and before you know it your new normal is nothing like your older life. It might seem incredible but the capacity to adapt to the bizarre is astounding.

6. Normally, with books that have multiple perspectives and that go back and forth in time, I find myself invested more in one part over the other. But this book, I loved all three perspectives and all three voices and both the periods of time. Of course, the cult-ish activities of the 90s were amazing but I was just as invested in Lucy and Libby's lives. The three perspectives come together in the end brilliantly and we are given all the answers we were hoping for.

7. There are quite a few characters in this book and I felt like they were all well-crafted and nuanced and not perfect but perfectly human and flawed. Especially Henry, he is odd and a little bit off and his honesty as a narrator questionable but he is someone you will remember long after you've turned the last page. Also this rage and helplessness and confusion jump off the pages and I think all this was so well done.

8. This book is perfectly atmospheric, creepy and sinister. A perfect read for a rainy night. It's disturbing and unsettling and will keep you hooked. It is also oddly sad and heart breaking, how one decision and one action of inviting the wrong people into your life and home can change everything and honestly ruin lives.

Things I Didn't Like: 

For most part I loved this book. I really did and I highly recommend you pick it up.
But there were somethings that are a little bit off..slightly off.

Especially in the 90s portion of the book. Some of the characters motivations are not entirely believable or explained properly. This David guys just shows up and moves in and takes over, in every way possible and Henry and Lucy's dad just sits back and lets it happen, he is the guy with the money, the house and yet he is seemingly powerless, yes he has had a stroke but just doesn't add up.

Also there are two teenage boys and one other adult who isn't exactly happy with life in this cult yet they don't do nearly enough or soon enough.

There are some other small plot-related issues, but those are all in the spoiler zone, so I'll stay away from it! :)

Rating: 4/5

I really enjoyed this book, highly recommend.

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