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