Book review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

Saturday, August 10, 2019 Permalink

I had planned to only read a little of this book one evening. I should know myself better as it’s rare that I can put a book down once I start, but The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell offered a really strong sense of menace. Or doom. Or maybe just suspense…. so I had to keep reading.

Book review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa JewellThe Family Upstairs
by Lisa Jewell
Series: The Family Upstairs
Published by Century
on August 8th 2019
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1780899203, 9781780899213
Pages: 464

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?

This book was cleverly narrated. We meet Libby in the present and – with her – discover her secret (and tragic) family history. And there’s Henry and it takes a while to discover his identity as he writes in first person and most of his narrative involves the past and the mysterious events of the mid-late 1980s. It’s really through Henry that we get much of the story of 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.

And then there’s Lucy who lives in France with her two young children and – when we meet her – is homeless. That she has some relationship to the Lamb family is obvious, but Henry’s introduced us to a few players and hanger-on-ers in the house in Chelsea decades earlier, so we aren’t entirely sure ‘who’ she is.

Libby is very specific about her life plan including her eventual husband to be (and I laughed as I read this as I sooooo related. Side note: possibly why I’m still single at 51!). She seems to expect ‘the letter’ on her 25th birthday but isn’t sure what she will inherit from her birth parents. Of course once she knows the truth she’s intrigued and tracks down journalist Miller who spent two years of his life investigating the Lamb family tragedy. He’s a font of information and able to help her slowly find out everything she can about the events that led to the discovery of bodies. And the baby.

Much was left unanswered though and only those present at the time would know anything. Of course it’s impossible to think anyone would still be around or they would have come forward before now. Surely?

Jewell unfurls this story very deliberately. Its pace isn’t slow, rather there is a lot to take in. There’s a complex history to the Lamb family, the house in Chelsea and the five years during which Henry says things turned, “very very dark.”

In some ways it’s incredibly frustrating – as a reader. We can kinda see what’s coming… well, we obviously know it ends in death and mayhem, but the unpleasant Henry and bored Martina Lamb kinda bring some of it on themselves and I wanted to reach into the book and slap them both around the head a little.

It’s unfortunate that their children (Lucy and Henry Jr) had to deal with the fallout and that neither parent were willing to do anything about it. It’s also kinda horrific in some ways and the part of me that is affronted by injustice and people doing ‘wrong’ was furious with those who arrive (ie. the family upstairs) and those who permit (what comes) to happen.

This is an intriguing read. We don’t find out some of the detail until the very end. And, something I liked, was that – though there was a sense of menace and darkness – it wasn’t as if anyone’s life is threatened in the present. So I was kinda on the edge of my seat, (well I was in the bath but still…) waiting to hear exactly what had happened in the past but not necessarily frightened.

I very much enjoyed this sinister story and it’s a reminder I need to read more of Jewell’s work. As far as I can tell I’ve only read the one of her books (And Then She Was Gone) previously and it sounds as if it was kinda different and twisty as well.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell was published in Australia by Penguin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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