Friday 20 December 2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Meet the Bird Family 
All four children have an idyllic childhood: a picture-book cottage in a country village, a warm, cosy kitchen filled with love and laughter, sun-drenched afternoons in a rambling garden. 
But one Easter weekend a tragedy strikes the Bird family that is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear them apart. 
The years pass and the children become adults and begin to develop their own quite separate lives. Soon it's almost as though they've never been a family at all. 
Almost. But not quite. 
Because something has happened that will call them home, back to the house they grew up in - and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.

The House We Grew Up In is Lisa Jewell's eleventh novel and was published by Century - part of Random House, in July 2013.  Lisa Jewell has long been a favourite author of mine, I seem to have grown up alongside her writing.  I reviewed her last novel; Before I Met You back in September last year.

One of Lisa Jewell's main strengths is her ability to write something that is completely different and quite unexpected.  The House We Grew Up In is a hard hitting, yet at the same time, a gentle story that is both shocking and moving and has taken a place in my favourite books of the year list.

The story begins as Megan and her teenage daughter return to the house that Megan grew up in.  The house that her mother Lorelei spent her last lonely years in, surrounded by her things - randomly purchased and collected items, things that had meaning for Lorelei, but to Megan and the rest of the family were just junk, rubbish, a mess.

Megan and her siblings grew up with Lorelei and their father Colin in this house.  They were never the most conventional family around, but they were happy.   Lorelei was something of a bohemian, delighting in brightly coloured foil, turning cartwheels unexpectedly and devoting herself to her children.  Then everything changed; on one Easter Sunday the Bird family fell apart.   Since that day, the family disintegrated, each one of them dealing with the tragedy in their own way.

Megan got married, had children and became obsessive about cleanliness.  Bethan stayed at home, until Lorelei's things took over the house, she started a doomed relationship and finally fled to the other side of the world.  Rhys just crumbled, making mistake after mistake until one day he couldn't run any further.

And Lorelei and Colin?  Those happy parents?  Lorelei fell in love with a woman and Colin set up home next door before shocking his family with his choice of new partner.

This is a powerful and at times heart breaking, the inner sadness of each of these people is raw.  Lisa Jewell has cleverly crafted the story with flashbacks over the years, interwoven with emails that the ageing Lorelei has written to her 'online lover'.  Complex and difficult issues are not hidden or shied away from; extra marital affairs, suicide, mental illness - all of these are compassionately dealt with.  Lorelei is the centre of this story and her children and partners are like spokes of the wheel, everything and every action leads back to Lorelei.

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors?   Who knows why people become obsessive, or careless? This wonderfully written, warm and very clever novel gives the reader a glimpse into how a family can destruct, but also how the powerful bind of family love can tie them all together.

Clever, moving and completely absorbing.  Another excellent novel from a very talented author.


Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.
She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.
She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.
Find Lisa on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisajewelluk

1 comment:

  1. This sounds fab! Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Anne :)