October 13, 2020

Book review: “The family upstairs” by Lisa Jewell

This one was recommended to me by a friend who for some reason (unknown to me) thought  I’d enjoy it very much. Anyway...

It’s not like I hated the book. In fact, I did enjoy it in parts. 

The story is fast paced, the writing is crisp and easy. And it has that ‘page turner’ quality (at least in the first 3/4th of the book). The narrative is split into three different POV’s, each with a distinctive style and course.

25 year old Libby aka ‘the baby’ has just inherited a mansion in the heart of Chelsea from a family she lost as a baby. 

While researching on this surprise inheritance, there are a few other discoveries that come to light, the prime among which is that as a baby she had been found by authorities in the midst of a crime scene, gurgling away in her crib with three dead people in the house (her parents and their friend in an alleged suicide pact), and that she has two other siblings she never got to see/know growing up. 

It is these three; Libby, Henry, and Lucy around which the narrative is structured. 

Thus unravels the story of the mansion, at the centre of which lie these three families whose lives become closely intertwined in sinister ways...ways that the reader will find himself piecing together as he becomes part of the journey. A journey rife with emotional upheaval, a troubled childhood, bizarre cultic traditions, and some deep dark secrets that once breathed in the mansion, waiting for 25 years to be uncovered. 

Jewell has managed to successfully arouse and maintain the intrigue of the reader with each person’s narrative alternating between their horrifying past replete with cloistered cultic traditions and incestuous relationships, and their tumultuous present that is filled with confusion, fear, anxiety, and yet a common yearning...to meet each other, especially ‘the baby’. 

There are moments of surprise and incredulity that will leave the reader open mouthed but turning pages nevertheless.

Some instances that require suspension of disbelief include: 

A murder happening (too easily executed and concealed) in broad daylight and the cops never following up on it. 

Henry (at age 12 or 13) learning the entire expansive science of herbs and potions from Justin and then practicing it all alone with equal finesse almost felt like a retelling of ‘the sorcerers apprentice’.

Also couldn’t help feeling all the kids in the book must have been precocious, with them the little geniuses mastering sciences and culinary arts, or understanding the nuances of mature adult relationships or even plotting the almost-perfect escape and getting away with murder. 

All this, with not even as much as basic formal schooling (Couldn’t help feeling it may have been education that ruined us).

Cut to the last 1/4th of the book, and the plot starts feeling a little stodgy or probably this is because your expectations have risen by then, when suddenly the big reveal...the sibling is not the sibling (which is a good twist nonetheless). 

You devour the next few pages at break neck speed and just when you think the plot is getting sinister, PHAATT! It falls flat! 

Yes, the way the story ended left me feeling let down because by then I was rooting for pure evil, what with a cultic plot like that. Instead it gave me a happily ever after with almost negligible traces of ominousness (a major roll-eye moment).

It was as if the quota of dark psychology had outdone itself during their childhood and not wanting to creep them out anymore suddenly decided to quit the family reunion. 

Jewell leaves a lot to the readers imagination, with her touch-and-go style of cause and effect. 

Well, I do acknowledge the fact that a nice little open ending exercises the brain cells, but experimenting with these kind of open loops a tad too frequently in the story can make it seem like the author may have not known how best to end what she had started. 

To sum up, ‘The Family Upstairs’ is a racy, chilling, psychological read that includes multiple story lines, scarred lives, a lot of mystery, several murders, a deranged cult, a malevolent obsession, and a happy ending, that will leave you with some jaw drops and a whole lot of roll eye moments.

I rate it 3 out of 5 

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