Century | 2019 (8 August) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
The police are alerted to the sounds of a baby’s cry from a large fashionable house in Chelsea, London. They find three bodies, dead for days. Upstairs is a healthy baby. It’s an enigma. Who has been looking after the baby? Is this a suicide pact, as a note suggests, or is it something else entirely?
Years later, more than one person is drawn back to the house. The baby is now a woman, aged 25 years. She’s inherited this magnificent house. But it comes at a price. Others may look for her there as the house’s layers of mystery are slowly and shockingly peeled away.
Lisa Jewell is the master of stand alone psychological thrillers and this is proven yet again by The Family Upstairs, which I found to be utterly compelling and engrossing, in a kind of voyeur sense, perhaps, but this darkly disturbing novel is as catchy and addictive as you could desire.
We’re given a bunch of lives to follow, and we spend time with them in the present day and in the past. The narrative moves between certain characters and between the years. It’s a complex structure but this is an author who has no trouble at all controlling, manipulating, an array of plot threads, each as fascinating as the next.
I don’t want to give anything away about the plot or the people. It’s a joy to watch it all unravel before your eye. But, at the heart of this book is 16 Cheyne Walk, with its several floors, many rooms and multiple hiding places. There’s barely a room without a secret, barely a space left untouched by its extraordinary past and we explore them all.
This is a dark novel with some dark themes. For several of the people in the novel the normal rules and codes of life don’t apply and Lisa Jewell shows us exactly why in the most beautifully-written and punchy prose. I loved The Family Upstairs. It kept me company through a couple of very hot, sleepless nights, but it wasn’t just the heat that kept me reading. I could not put this marvellous book down.