Lisa Jewell had planned to write her first book when she was 50, she actually wrote it aged 27 after being made redundant from her job as a secretary. Her first book Ralph’s party (1998) was inspired by Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a book about young people like herself living in London. She’s now a bestselling British author with 11 bestselling novels such as, Ralph’s Party, Thirtynothing and most recently 31 Dream Street and lives in Swiss Cottage, London with her husband Jascha and daughters Amelie Mae (born 2003) and Evie Scarlett (born 2007). Lisa writes every day in a local café where she can drink decent coffee, people-watch and without access to the internet, actually get some work done.
In this review I’m going to discuss her 2013 novel The House We Grew Up In. Here she introduces us to the Bird family, a family that could be described as perfect. They live in a honey-coloured 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. But when something happens one Easter weekend it’s so unexpected, so devastating that nobody ever speaks of it and everything falls 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 learn what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.
Aside from this page-turning story, what I like about this book is the characters, the way Lisa writes and the hidden complexity that comes to light as you read the book. The story is written in a gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of our characters, as they uncover what secrets lie in every corner of their childhood home. Also each chapter begins with a letter, showing us what’s going through Lorelei’s head throughout 2012-2013, we then get a look at what our characters are doing in present day (2013), but that’s not all! Lisa has the remarkable ability of allowing us to receive answers to questions we didn’t know we had by showing us the events of the past.
Everything she writes begins to intertwine and a complicated story with many layers begins to unfold before our eyes. Lastly, in terms of the characters themselves, we learn a little of what Lorelai is like from her letters, she’s bubbly and cheerful, but from her comments and children’s glances we learn she’s got a few problems of her own. Then we get to know her kids; one of them is rebelling from everything her mother has ever done, another is finding her feet in the world, one more is trying to find where he belongs and find himself; oh and the last Bird has flown the nest and will be reunited with the others when the time comes. I know that’s very vague but I refuse to give away any spoilers! Every member of this family is a piece of the puzzle that is their complicated family history, each of them contributes to it one way or another, along with other characters we meet along the way.
Overall, Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In is a story that’s heart-wrenching, thought provoking, gripping, believable and also the issue she raises our awareness to may be relatable to some. In other words, it’s an “unputdownable” novel just waiting to be read. You won’t have any regrets purchasing this book.