Saturday, 21 June 2014

The house we grew up in - Lisa Jewell

A great novel about a dysfunctional family and a secret that lies at the heart of it all.

I picked up this one to decide if Lisa Jewell was more of a "chick lit" author and am I glad to be proved wrong. Jewell is a storyteller first and foremost and she weaves fantastic tales.

This is her latest book and about a woman who is a "hoarder". I remember watching trailers of documentaries of what made these people to accumulate stuff and Jewell has come up with a pretty good explanation for that.


The bird family is a big family with Lorelei and Colin at the helm looking after their four children. However, what seems like an idyllic childhoo turns sour over a period of time and the family disintegrates, leading to weird relationships, misunderstandings and chaos. As events unfold, all the children leave the house and so does Colin the husband and Lorelei is left all alone in the house turning the beautiful cotwolds cottage into a health hazard with her hoarding habit. Lorlei has an internet lover and it is through mails that we get to hear her side of the story when all the other characters simply wonder what made her act like a weirdo. She dies in the most tragic circumstances, of starvation and neglect. Upon her death, the family gets back together again and tries to piece together where they went wrong and look for redemption.

What works:

  • The characters are so effective that even when they make uncharacteristic decisions, it is very easy to see what drove them to it. Excellent portrayal of character.
  • Jewell has this great way of conveying banal, bizarre and the most uncomfortable facts in a dry and a matter of fact manner. Her style is so smooth that she manages to tackle the most awkward subjects ina very simplistic yet effective manner. 

  • Jewell also conveys quite well the way we perceive people through their actions, interpreting them in a particular way, without wondering if there could be other reasons to explain it. Lorelei's hoarding habit turned her eldest daughet into a cleanliness freak and her younger daughter into a diffident person but they mistook their mother's freak habit as abnormal rather than understanding the reason for it.

What doesn't:

  • The story is about a dysfunctional family is bound to be bizzare but sometimes, it felt as though Jewell was taking it too far. At one point I felt I was watching something out of Eastenders, the way the characters were forming the most unliky relationships. It seemed to be a bit too much.

In a nutshell:

Overall a great read, Jewell plays the story in a very understated manner that it flow well without building a hype and turn out lame. The characters start off as a family, move away to live their lives and then come back to the cocoon of the family nest where they find the evasive peace and resolution they have been looking for.

An engrossing read indeed.

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