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Format Paperback (borrowed from family)
Publication Date August 2019
Length 340 pages
Content Warnings Domestic violence, child abuse, rape, trauma, death
What It’s About
When Libby inherits a mansion from the biological parents she never knew, it offers life-changing possibilities and the ticket out of her dead-end job. However, this once-lavish house holds the story of Libby’s first months of life, and she can’t sell until the truth is uncovered.
A newspaper article records how the house became infamous decades ago, when three adults were found dead in what was suspected to be a cult-related suicide pact. Concerned locals reported children living there too, but their identities were unknown and no trace of them remained. These missing children could be the only family Libby has ever known: the question is whether they want to be found.
First Chapter Impressions
The Family Upstairs is written with short chapters from three different perspectives, and this structure had me racing through it from the start! I was itching to find out how these three seemingly separate stories would become connected.
At the centre of it all is the house Libby inherits, which almost becomes a character in itself. Jewell creates such a creepy atmosphere, so you absolutely know bad things have happened within those four claustrophobic walls before anything is even revealed.
Final Page Reflections
Although the novel certainly provided me with a hit of the entertaining, fast-paced escapism that only thrillers can offer, the more I read and thought about it, the more I noticed its problems. I did love Lucy’s character and found Henry’s contributions in the past timeline addictively disturbing. Yet Libby’s perspective never managed to hold my attention, which took some of the shine from the otherwise slick story.
When I discussed the novel with my book club, many people pointed out some of the story’s plot holes (such as unrealistically inept policing). In fairness, the extent to which these flaws affect your reading experience depends whether you’re reading analytically or just for pure entertainment. I’m not a massively detailed-oriented or alert reader so probably would have missed them!
While some elements of the plot were predictable, these were made up for by many twists that I never saw coming. Also, I loved that the ending seemed like it was going to be wrapped up too neatly, but then the author threw a spanner in the works right at the last minute to make it suitably unsettling!
Diversity and Representation
One major issue with The Family Upstairs is that it inadequately deals with major traumas such as child abuse, domestic violence, and rape. The lack of space created in the novel to explore the aftermath of these horrific events made them feel sensationalist and was raised as an issue by many of the women in my book club.
- Group psychology
- Love vs obsession
Beyond the Book
As mentioned, The Family Upstairs threw in some seriously traumatic events which were never given space for sensitive examination. This made me wonder if the nature of the crime fiction genre, with its fast publishing turnaround and demands to raise our adrenaline, means that these books can be at risk of sensationalising.
However, I’m also aware that some books in the crime fiction/thriller genre provide genuinely incisive social commentary and would love your recommendations!
1. Did one of the story’s perspectives (Libby, Lucy, or Henry) stand out for you, and if so, which one? Or did they all equally appeal?
2. Can you recommend a crime fiction novel that provides powerful social commentary and deals with sensitive topics in a very comprehensive way?
3. What’s your opinion on the ending of the novel? Would you like to see a sequel?
“All men are weak … That’s the whole bloody trouble with the world. Too weak to love properly. Too weak to be wrong.”
~ Lisa Jewell, ‘The Family Upstairs’
Read If You need to forget about the state of the world with some thriller-edition escapism!
You may also like: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Have you read The Family Upstairs? Which Lisa Jewell book should I read next time I’m in need of a thriller fix? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!
4 thoughts on “The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell: Thriller-Edition Escapism”
Another great review, you’ve reminded me of one of the main issues I have with thrillers, their often frantic pacing doesn’t leave enough room either for character development, or sensetive exploration of potentially traumatic issues. There is often danger of thrills turning into shocks for the sake of providing dramatic tension, but I’m sure there are exceptions to the general trend here, and I don’t want to slate an entire genre, which has many other things going for it. They are often just the thing for a spot of binge reading and escapism.
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Thank you very much for the comment Alyson! I’m glad it’s not just me that finds many thrillers to be problematic. I completely agree though that it’s important not to judge an entire genre by the flaws in some of its books! 📚❤️ X x x
An excellent balanced review, Florence! I do find that it’s an issue with thrillers where they include sensitive topics for dramatic effect without finding the time to explore them in more detail, so you make a really good point. If you are looking for a crime/mystery that contains social commentary, look no further than the Six Stories series that I’ve recommended a couple of times before!! The two most recent ones are especially detailed in that respect 🥰❤
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Thank you so much for the kind comment Stephen! 🥰 I agree that authors have a degree of responsibility to deal sensitively with the issues they put into their plots. Ha ha, I’ve got the Six Stories series on my list and I promise I’ll get to it soon! 😂 I love a good incisive thriller so I’m sure they’ll be right up my street 🥰❤️ X x x
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