Never mind. Jewell’s books come out with delightful regularity and head straight for the charts. This one is presently sitting at the top of both the Sunday Times bestseller list and the Neilsen Bookscan Original Fiction list in the Bookseller. The readers have made their judgement and I agree with them. The Family Upstairs is a real “can’t put it down even while you’re frying onions “ book. You hold the pages open with one hand and cook with the other.
It’s the very model of my younger daughter’s definition of a good novel: Proper People in Interesting Situations. It centres around a mansion in Chelsea: 16 Cheyne Walk. ( By coincidence the Historical House books written by Linda Newbery, Ann Turnbull and me also take place in Cheyne Walk....what a small world!)
The structure of the book is somewhat complicated because there are three narratives unwinding alongside one another. In one, a young woman takes possession of 16 Cheyne Walk under the terms of a slightly mysterious will and sets out to discover a very murky truth that lies deep in her childhood.
In the second and perhaps overarching strand, Henry, who lived in the house when he was a child, explains exactly what went on there....I’m not going to give even a hint of a spoiler, because plenty of terrible things did go on there.
In the third strand, Lucy, Henry’s sister, tells her quite separately gruelling adventure. All three strands are plaited together to produce maximum tension, gasps of horror and a dénouement in which....but no, I’m going to resist saying anything about that as well. It’s terrific, and has a glorious little twistette in the tail.
If I have a single criticism, it’s that two of the heroines’ names are quite similar: Lucy and Lizzie, but truthfully it’s not really a problem. I got used to it in the end.
This review might be posted too late for the sun-lounger season, but The Family Upstairs would work just as well at a fireside, or in bed or....well, anywhere really. It’s a gem from Lisa Jewell. Someone has probably said this before, but I couldn’t resist.
The Family Upstairs is published by Century.