Book Review – The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell


Pages: 422
Published: 12th August 2014
Started reading: 8 June
Finished reading: 13 June

Synopsis (Goodreads)

Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night.

Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives.

Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in — and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.

Review

At the beginning of May I read Lisa Jewell’s most recent book, Then She Was Gone. It was a thrilling and affecting read with plenty of twists, so naturally I decided that I would like to read some of her other work, and I managed to find this one in the library.

This is a much different book to Then She Was Gone. It is not a thriller; instead it is an interesting and entertaining drama with a hint of chick-lit. Now I must admit, chick-lit is not my chosen genre, but there are more than enough good things in this book which compensate for that.

The characters are a VERY interesting bunch! They are extremely well-drawn and given an incredible amount of depth from very early on. Lisa Jewell paints a vivid picture of the whole family’s personality traits, and it is that character development and the issues that each of them face that really drive the story along.

At the same time, they often struck me as the kind of family you would expect to see in a sitcom. Lorelei’s eccentric mannerisms; Colin’s transformation from mild-mannered to startlingly outgoing; the various and sometimes lurid misadventure of Beth and Rory. Their unusual escapades mean there is rarely a dull moment!

The craziness is complimented by some very serious overarching issues. At the heart of this novel is Lorelei’s hoarding, and the psychology behind it. She is a character that lives in the moment, and her wide-ranging personality ensures that her plight is quite touching. There is also the issue of suicide and how the family move on from it.

One thing I did have a slight issue with was the structure of the book. Almost every chapter begins with a email from Lorelei to a man called Jim, sent shortly before she died (I assure you that isn’t a spoiler 🙂 ), before moving forward to April 2011, which is after she died, and then going back to a year from their past, always on Easter Sunday.

It reminded me a little of One Day by David Nicholls in that sense, but overall it just felt muddled and I found it difficult to get my head around it at first. In my humble opinion, there was no reason to go back and forth so much.

Are some of the family’s actions believable? It is a debatable question, but the issues covered a very real and relevant. At 422 pages, maybe it goes on a little bit longer than necessary, but overall this is an entertaining and thought-provoking read, which balances humour with some very serious issues. There is a lot to like about the eloquent writing style, the detail, and the characterisation.

Themes

This book contains depictions of suicide, drug use and mild sexual content, so it would be best to skip it if any of these are likely to cause a negative reaction.

Verdict

Often fun and often surreal, this is a very entertaining read. However, there are some flaws with the structure and some of the character development.

I award The House We Grew Up In a rating of 3.5 stars.

Happy reading 🙂

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