Book Review: The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
The reason I love reading so much is that people can read the same book and have vastly different opinions about it. Looking online at the reviews for this new mystery/thriller, fans seemed to be in love with this book. I was not really interested in reading it, until my book BFF, Tammy, asked me to read it so she and I could discuss it. When a die-hard reader friend asks to discuss a book with me, I automatically have to read the book- there is obviously something there to discuss.
And oh boy, were there things to discuss. The Family Upstairs centers around Libby, a 25 year-old woman who lives in a modest flat in England and sells high-dollar kitchens to the wealthy. On her 25th birthday, she receives a letter from her deceased biological parents, opening the door to a mysterious past and an inheritance claim of a large, crumbling mansion in the most expensive part of town. She slowly learns about her childhood and the darkness that surrounds it involving another family and a cult-like leader who divides and destroys the family. She discovers her half-siblings and the awful events that lead to their disappearance and her adoption. The novel takes many twists and turns before coming to a cliche conclusion that is honestly quite unbelievable.
I did not like this book. From the first few pages, I was completely confused. The book switches perspectives, between Libby and Lucy, her half-sister, in the present day, and Henry, her half-brother, in 1989, the year that the darkness began to overtake their lives. It took a good 100 pages for me to fully understand what was going on and to keep the storylines straight. Libby was never really developed as a character; she learns about her past but it doesn't seem to change or affect her as a character. She doesn't really DO anything. Lucy and Henry are much more developed as characters, as we get to see how the events of the past have left them damaged and destroyed. Their storylines were much more engaging and interesting to read about and that was the only thing that kept me invested in the book. Jewell has a great writing style and the way she phrases some of her scenes was truly beautiful to read; however, the middle of the book get really bogged down and I found myself skimming through to get to the twist ending.
My biggest complaint with this book was the way it made me feel. I've read books about cults, murder and mystery before, but after getting a few chapters into this novel, I got this very icky feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm not sure whether this was intentional by the author, but that feeling stayed with me until well after I finished the book. I told my husband that never, in all my years of reading, had I had such a weird and gross feeling while reading a book. I kept thinking something weird was going to happen, and I even asked Tammy if my feeling was right (which she confirmed). When the twist occurred, my suspicions were correct and my feeling was justified.
Tammy and I had a great discussion about this book and, even though we didn't exactly agree on our feelings about it, we agreed that it was not the best mystery/thriller we had ever read. I do not think I will read more from this author, even though her writing is really good. I'm still trying to get the icky feeling out of my system. If you like mystery/thriller centered around cults and family drama, then you may enjoy this book. I cannot recommend it, though, to everyone.