Adult Fiction Books contemporary Crime fiction mystery suspense thriller

“The Family Upstairs”: Lisa Jewell’s twisted horror with a powerful message

Lisa Jewell’s incredible horror novel The Family Upstairs will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. It’s another stand out domestic thriller from the million-copy bestselling author – a compelling, engrossing story of betrayal and redemption and the secrets that build up behind closed doors.

The Family Upstairs is a novel that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the cover.


In a large house in London’s fashionable Chelsea, a baby is awake in her cot. Well-fed and cared for, she is happily waiting for someone to pick her up.

In the kitchen lie three decomposing corpses. Close to them is a hastily scrawled note.

They’ve been dead for several days.

Who has been looking after the baby?

And where did they go?

Two entangled families.

A house with the darkest of secrets.

I found The Family Upstairs to be a total page-turner – a dark, sinister mystery that was impossible to put down. I loved the different points of narrative, and how the story jumped back and forward in time. It gave the full picture, created suspense, gave us an incredible build up and kept us guessing on what was going to happen next.

Jewell uses literacy tapestry to put together this story, weaving together some very powerful themes through it’s complex characters and emotions. Themes like survival, power, ineffectual parenting, recovering but also not recovering, and how damage during childhood can resurface and impact us later in life.

But, ultimately, what this novel is really about, is choices and decisions.

The Family Upstairs has a really powerful message: that life presents many choices to us, and those choices, the ones we make and our decisions, are what determine our future.

Many times in The Family Upstairs the characters are presented with a menu of options of what to do and we begin to see that the decisions they make begin to lay the foundations of what was to come.

We don’t always know it at the time when we’re choosing the choice or making the decision what impact it will have on the rest of our lives, but it’s so easy, with hindsight, to look back and pinpoint the exact things and times where if we chose another option, or another path, things would have forever been incredibly different.

When Hendry tries to talk to his father about the things that are going on, his father describes it as this:

“Sometimes in life you get to a fork in the road. Your mother and I, we got to a fork in the road. She wanted to go one way, I wanted to go another.”

– Lisa Jewell, The Family Upstairs

The notion of having a fork in the road – in other words, two big choices to choose between – comes up frequently throughout the novel. Each time it does it reminds us that there were other roads the characters could have gone down. There were a thousand other things they could have done differently, but didn’t.

And this, is what set the course for what was to come.

Later, Hendry even said something similar himself:

“It was a fork in the road, really. Looking back on it there were so many other ways to have got through the trauma of it all, but with all the people I loved most facing away from me I chose the worst possible option.”

– Lisa Jewell, The Family Upstairs

Only with hindsight he could see that there was other options he could have chosen that would have lead to completely different outcome, maybe one that wasn’t so dangerous or with fewer fatalities. But in the moment he chose what he thought was best based on the information he had and the things he was feeling at the time.

In the end, I think Jewell was trying to show us that the human life is made up of hundreds and thousands of choices. Yes or no, in or out, to keep going or stop.

Then there are bigger choices – the ones that really matter. To choose to love, or to hate. To be a hero and fight for something worth fighting for, or to be a coward and give up and let it go. To bring life into the world, or not. To let someone sweep in and saves us, or to save ourselves.

But the biggest choice, that’s to live, or to die. And even then, sometimes – as Jewell reminds us – that’s not always in our hands.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: