This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Reviewed by Cressida McLaughlin
Clearing out a parent’s home after their death must be one of the hardest things in the world for a child to do, but for Megan it is made even more difficult and traumatic because her mum, Lorelei was a hoarder. When she arrives at the Bird family house, a beautiful yellow brick cottage with a flourishing garden in a pretty Cotswold village, Megan isn’t under any illusion about what she will have to face once she opens the door – not just piles of objects, but also memories and feelings that will be stirred up with the dust.
Flash back to Easter Sunday 1981, and the Bird family Easter egg hunt. Megan is enjoying the game with her siblings, younger sister Beth and twin brothers Rhys and Rory. It is an innocent time and Lorelei is at her most content, in her busy, rambling home surrounded by her family. But Easter Sunday is not always this happy for them, and only a few years later something happens that changes their lives forever.
As Megan and her daughter Molly begin the daunting task of working through Lorelei’s hoard, they are also faced with the devastating circumstances surrounding her death and the buried secrets that led to her living alone in this way, almost unable to leave the house. Much of the book is made up of flashbacks to crucial moments in the lives of the Bird family, as Lorelei, Colin and the children try to carry on after the tragic events of 1991. The point of view switches between them, from Megan’s structured, ordered life bringing up her own four children, to Rory’s nomadic existence in Spain and Thailand, to Beth’s almost invisible existence.
In the present, and working through each room in turn, Megan begins to come to terms with her mother’s death. And she also starts to truly understand how deeply the tragedy affected all those around her, and why Lorelei dealt with it in such an inexplicable way.
The House We Grew Up In is a beautiful, haunting, thoughtful book. Every family member has a compelling story. They are all flawed, all strong and compassionate in their own way and, as their stories unravelled, I was completely sold on how each of them suffered, struggled and dealt with the tragedy. Lisa Jewell creates an idyllic family life with cracks just visible beneath the surface, and I was hooked even before the pivotal event in the book.
I loved that the story was built around a cosy, happy home and a yearly celebration – Easter Sunday, with roast lamb and brightly coloured Easter eggs hidden in wall crevices and under garden shrubs. Both the house, with its gallery of childhood drawings in the kitchen, and Easter day itself, become sinister and unhappy in Megan’s eyes and, as the shattered, scattered family are reunited after Lorelei’s death, they have to piece things back together and bring light and life back into the house they know so well.
The House We Grew Up In is one of the most captivating and emotional family dramas I have read, and Megan and Lorelei, Beth, Rhys, Rory and Colin stayed with me long after I had closed the book.
Lisa Jewell's website