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The Family Upstairs (2019)
Book Reviews

The Family Upstairs (2019)

A subpar thriller about familial secrets and abandoned babies is light on suspense and real intrigue.

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It’s miraculous to receive a letter letting you know you’ve just inherited a house, right? And not just any house, but a mansion. But if it comes attached with familial baggage, does that make it any less appealing? Probably not. Known for her spine-tingling thrillers Then She Was Gone, I Found You, and Watching You, Lisa Jewell brings up the issue of family ties in her latest novel, The Family Upstairs. Family can be difficult even at the best of times, but when you’re unaware of the darker secrets your background holds, it becomes even more complicated.

Upon her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones is served with an official letter stating she’s just inherited a mansion in the fashionable London neighborhood of Chelsea. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as Libby is experiencing hard times and this good news seems to be a dream come true. Even better, she now knows the identity of her birth parents, along with two missing siblings, Henry and Lucy, who never came forward to claim the home. Not knowing who you are or where you came from can eat away at a person’s identity, but sometimes, secrets are best kept under wraps.

When Libby digs deeper into her past, she finds a family so entangled with oddities that she has a hard time believing the stories. But discovering your family may have been part of a cult would top anyone’s list of unexpected things to find when digging into your past.

But despite all that, Libby is desperate to know who she is. Unbeknownst to her, the missing siblings are aware that Libby is now twenty-five and stands to inherit their former home. This, in itself, is puzzling as you would expect your siblings who are aware of your presence to reach out to you. However, you soon find out why they’ve kept quiet all these years. Henry intertwines Libby’s present with the past in his version about how the family who came to live with them never went away.

It must be hard to not know who you are or where you belong. The many twists and turns one has to take to get through the labyrinthian route to know who you are sometimes isn’t worth it. And in the end, Jewell misses her mark. As it turns out, Libby’s oldest brother turns to the dark side in his desperation to bring his family back to normality. Unfortunately, his calamity creates a domino effect that changes the course of all the siblings’ lives permanently.

There are several inconsistencies throughout the story that leaves one with more questions than when they started. The ending leaves much to be desired and makes me wish Jewell had finished it another way. Even though the siblings have been separated for a long time, there isn’t any hesitancy when they meet up, though Henry does exhibit some odd behaviour. All in all, this left me feeling it’s now always best not to meet up with family.

Lisa Jewell attempts to create a suspenseful family thriller with The Family Upstairs, but even with its intriguing premise the lackluster effort left me wanting me. Who doesn’t love watching a string of secrets revealed and promises broken play out? Sadly, this saga of familial bad blood just isn’t as interesting or as satisfying as the initial buildup led me to believe. We can’t always choose who we share blood ties with, but we do get to choose the people we’d prefer to have in our family. Sometimes, this ends up better than what nature chose for us.

About the Author: Evelyn Wong