I recently got The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell in as part of my Book of the Month box. I read it in one day. I give it a 4 star rating!
I tend to read thrillers to break up my fantasy binges (in fact, I put aside Fate of the Fallen because I needed to mentally shake up my mind after all of my recent fantasy reads before I continued). Here’s the thing, modern thrillers should confuse you a bit. For me, generally thrillers can be boring, been done a million times, or overambitious and messy. There’s a very fiiiiine line for me with thrillers because unlike fantasy, the options ARE limited. So being unique and fresh can be a struggle. Lisa Jewell got me confused. In a good way. If I can survive more than half of a thriller not figuring out THE MAJOR plot line, it passes my test.
Libby receives an inheritance of a multimillion dollar manor in London when she turns 25. She was orphaned in infancy and found next to three dead bodies, including the owners of the manor. The story follows her storyline, as well as Henry and Lucy, who were also raised in the house at the time. The three bodies were found with traces of poison in their system, all wearing the same black clothing. The house was bare and devoid of any personal touches or luxury items. The bodies were taut and thin, emaciated. The police never found out the reasoning behind the deaths, never found the missing other children in the house, and Libby was turned over to an adoptive family.
The thing I loved about this book is that the author delved into cult mentality. The children’s parents find themselves inviting a group into the house that slowly takes over their living space. Their leader, David uses his presence and cunning to strip the family down to the basics under the premise of unloading the burdens of materialistic values. He controls the food they put in their body, the possessions they are able to hold onto, the money they spend, the subjects they study. He wants them to be utterly dependent, weak, and vulnerable. It goes into the effects of having adults like this in your life. Adults who are controlling and adults willing to let other people make decisions about their kids, especially to their detriment. Almost all of the characters have mentally suffered because of their environment. How could you not? You see those documentaries of kids who are chained to beds in their parent’s attic for years before they escape and do you expect someone to be “normal” after that? I would be STUNNED if someone escaped mentally unscathed after something like that? In true, just-got-locked-in-a-room-and-basically-starved-at-the-hands-of-sadistic-adult fashion, characters in this book are MESSED UP. You get a mentally deficient unreliable narrator. You get insecure adults who fall into the hands of predators, who can’t break a cycle. You get children that never felt loved who become adults who never felt loved.
The bad about this story. I ALMOST wavered between a 3.5 and a 4 for this. Henry’s storyline ended up being exactly what I expected. The other characters surprised me a bit more. There’s also a murder in here of a character that I didn’t think was ENTIRELY necessary to the story, but was understandable. The ending was mostly satisfactory but the last few paragraphs were a bit of an eye roll and cliche in the thriller genre in regards to the “cliffhanger” but nothing to spoil the entire book. Some of the “confusing” bits seemed a little jumbled and thoughtless, but for the most part, was cohesive.
Ultimately, this book was fast paced. It wasn’t the same old song and dance. It kept me guessing for more than half of the story and most of the plot lines. The writing was engaging. The good outweighed the bad and this was an enjoyable read that I was about to devour. I think it’s worth the read for those who like this genre!