I hadn’t come across Lisa Jewell’s fiction until I read Then She Was Gone, for which I had a grudging admiration. Psychological thrillers are a genre about which I know little; they’ve never been my thing. That is, until now. The Family Upstairs is an engrossing page turner that gripped me from beginning to end.
The Family Upstairs tells the story of the Lamb family. Mr. Lamb, a coarse and brutish figure, and his socialite German wife seem to have it all. Ensconced in their Chelsea residence, full of dark furniture and stuffed animals, they live a privileged life. Mr. Lamb is delighted to have made good from his humble beginnings. Though cold and reserved, their life is relatively sweet until the one-time pop success, Birdie arrives on the scene. This is closely followed by the arrival of David Thomsen along with his family – Phinn, Clemency and his wife. David is a manipulative and domineering bully and the dynamics of the house change. The reader watches David expand his authority and power, stealing the family’s wealth, under the guise of spiritualism and giving. In essence a cult has developed under the nose of Mr. Lamb, who after suffering a stroke is powerless to stop events unfolding.
The story is told by various narrators. The person who gives us the most background is Henry Lamb, the teenage son, who the reader has great empathy with. However, as with all good thrillers things are not completely as they seem.
We also follow the life of Lucy, mother of two children, and a homeless victim of domestic abuse, living in France. It takes the reader a while to realize that Henry’s sister is also called Lucy.
Finally, we explore events from the viewpoint of Libby, an ordinary young woman who was adopted at birth, and finds that at twenty-five, she has inherited the Chelsea house. How that comes to be, is the backdrop of the story, which enables the writer to explore and develop the complex characters who have suffered at the hands of David Thomsen.
But what is the story about… ? Well, we learn early on that three murders and the abandonment of a baby in a cot that took place in the house twenty-five years previously has been uncovered. Who they all were is what needs unearthing; who is the baby and who does she belong to? You’ll have to read The Family Upstairs to find out what happens.
Book Club Questions on Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs
Clemency said that Henry had a pure twist of evil running through him. To what extent do you think this is true and and if it is the case, can’t he be blamed?
In the story, The Family Upstairs, David had a charismatic power whereby all the female characters, even Lucy, seemed enthralled by him. Discuss why you think David could wield such authority over the household?
Henry was besotted with Phinn, to the extent that he scrawled ‘I am Phinn’ over the furniture. As an adult, when discovered, he told Libby that he was Phinn; He also, as an adult, had cosmetic surgery to appear more like Phinn. Discuss and analyze Henry’s character.
The sequel to The Family Upstairs called The Family Remains has recently been released. Predict what you think will happen in it.
How believable did you find the events leading up to and following the deaths of the three adults? When reading a psychological thriller is it important to you for the storyline to be completely credible?
Which of the plot twists in the novel surprised you the most? Which did you see coming?
Which character in the novel do you have the most sympathy for and why?
Libby’s real family is clearly extremely dysfunctional. Do you think it would be better if she had never learned of her background?
Libby becomes emotionally involved with Miller even though he is not her type at all. Miller’s obsession with the case of the Lambs’ had led to him losing two years of his life and his wife leaving him. Do you think the relationship will be a happy one? Discuss.
Book Club Questions on Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs (if you haven't read the book!)
Libby goes from working as a kitchen designer to becoming the owner of a house in Chelsea, worth several million pounds. Despite this she continues to go to work. How would you react if you came into a great fortune?
Libby’s life is completely upturned as she learns who her real mother is and that she has two half siblings. As an adoptee she’d been reasonably happy, but she seems very keen to develop a positive relationship with her biological family. Discuss the importance of family, be it an adopted or biological one.
As children, Lucy and Clemency had been inseparable. How important were childhood friendships in your own life? Discuss.
Although Lucy and Clemency return to their friendship they avoid discussing the childhood trauma they went through. This is counter to many modern counselling practices that suggests it is better to discuss trauma openly. What is your viewpoint about counselling and talking openly about difficult scenarios and situations?
Personal Response to Lisa Jewell's The Family Upstairs
It’s impossible to write too much about thrillers without giving far too many spoilers! The characters invite sympathy though and despite, I felt, some aspects of the storyline being unbelievable, Jewell creates great tension.
As I reached the end of The Family Upstairs, I said to myself I’d love to know what happened next. It was then with delight that I turned the page to see that a sequel, The Family Remains, is in the making. I’m intrigued to know what happens next.