Review – The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

By | November 24, 2013

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.

It’s not that long since I “discovered” Lisa Jewell’s books – unlike everyone else, her earlier books totally passed me by (although they’re all now on my Kindle or bookshelves) and my first two reads were The Making Of Us and Before I Met You. I was blown away by both of them, and they catapulted the author straight into my list of favourites.
This was another mesmerising read, with the Bird family in its centre – Colin, Lorelei, and their four children, who live in a lovely house in a Cotswold village.  The young mother Lorelei is wonderfully childlike and eccentric, enjoying the annual Easter egg hunt perhaps more than her growing children, and always collecting the foil wrappings from the eggs, perhaps for some unspecified project, perhaps just because of their association with such happiness.  Thirty years later, her daughter returns to the house – where their idyllic existence was shattered by a tragic event – to declare “This is the worst house I have ever seen”. Lorelei’s innocent collection of items with childhood memories has turned into the obsessive hoarding of items with very dubious significance as she is left alone, her family dealing with their own issues and problems.
This is a wonderfully constructed novel.  The story is told through a series of flashbacks and Lorelei’s emails to her friend  (which are immensely touching) as her family gathers to clear their mother’s home.  All the characters are complex and beautifully drawn, with Lorelei herself – descending into mental illness over the years – mesmerising at its centre. The book tackles big issues – family and personal relationships, bereavement, mental illness, suicide, adultery – weaving them all into a story that grips you from the first pages to the last. I absolutely loved it.

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Random House UK for my e-copy. The House We Grew Up In was published on 18th July 2013.

Lisa Jewell was born and raised in north London, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. Her first novel, Ralph’s Party, was the bestselling debut of 1999. She is also the author of Thirtynothing, One-Hit Wonder, Vince & Joy, A Friend of the Family, 31 Dream Street, The Truth About Melody Browne and After the Party, all of which have been Sunday Times bestsellers.