The Family Upstairs, by Lisa Jewell

When Libby Jones discovers that her birth parents have left her a house on her 25th birthday, she doesn’t know what to think. Then the house turns out to be dark, oppressive, and creepy. And that’s before she reads the articles about the crazy cult that lived there and the suicide pact that left her orphaned.

TW (book and review): Sexual abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, physical abuse

I heard about this book last month, I think. I put it on hold at the library and grabbed it as soon as it was available. Generally, I prefer mysteries to thrillers and I often find thrillers disappointing, so I was perfectly willing to try it out and return it unread to the library. Then I began reading, and the book felt far more nuanced than most thrillers I’ve read. There were three narrators: Libby, who now has to deal with the discovery of her true origin; Lucy, a homeless woman living in France with her two children; and Henry, a clear sociopath who narrates the goings-on in the cult-house before Libby’s birth. In the beginning, a lot is unclear, like the relationship of the narrators to each other. I enjoyed piecing together the mystery.

Then. Then came the middle of the story, and a particular moment where everything went sour. That’s when I should have closed the book, called it abandoned, and stopped reading. But as often happens with thrillers, I was too engaged to quit, too invested in the story, and I read right on through even as the book unraveled and made me feel sicker and sicker to my stomach. Everything from here on will be spoileriffic, so please stop here if you don’t want spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

There’s a particular moment in the book where all these complex situations – the cult, the adoption, the homelessness, the abusive ex – go from explored to exploited. There is horrific sexual assault and abuse, physical abuse, child abuse, murder, and stalking. This would be fine, if the elements were there for some other reason than to shock the reader and move the plot along. This story thrived on knee-jerk reactions, and any subtlety that existed in the first half of the book went out the window. Furthermore, there was heavy reliance on a trope that makes me angry and sick every time I see it: the sociopath repressed homosexual who obsesses over an individual to the point of violence. Lastly, the characters suddenly grew unbelievably naive, and many of the plot elements were also stretched to the point of disbelief. Cops not even going to bother investigating the sudden reunion of a murdered man and his ex-wife when she’s disappeared without a trace? Sure, why not! Investigative journalist can find all the threads of this story and all the people involved when the police can’t? Makes perfect sense! Woman deciding a family member is trustworthy despite him giving her a false name, locking her into a bedroom overnight, and stealing her phone to spy on her? Um…

So yeah. This book fell apart completely. Not only did the threads not fit together believably at the end, but the unique and interesting elements that could have made for some great conversation were just twisted into something to gawk at.

About Amanda

Writing. Family. Books. Crochet. Fitness. Fashion. Fun. Not necessarily in that order. Note: agender (she/her).
This entry was posted in 2020, Adult, Prose and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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