Reviewed by Danielle Pullen
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.
Earlier this Summer I reviewed Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell and I enjoyed it so much that Sharon was kind enough to let me review the author’s newest novel, The House We Grew Up In.
The novel is a family saga centring on Lorelei, her husband Colin and their children Rhys, Rory, Beth and Meg. They live an idyllic, relaxed existence is a beautiful country home, enjoying nature and the outdoors and surrounded by love. After a difficult childhood, Lorelei is determined that her children will be well-adjusted and stable adults. She fills her house with objects and furnishings encompassing the memories of family life. Also important are rituals and, of these, the most important day of the year for the Bird Family is Easter Sunday and Lorelei’s egg-hunt.
The first pivotal moment of the story occurs during the high emotion of Easter Sunday, a tragedy that affects the lives of each family family member in a personal way and places the stability and dependability that Lorelei has worked so hard to manufacture in jeopardy.
The novel evolves over thirty years and, as times passes, we learn more about each of the Bird children, how the events of their lives have made them individuals and allowed them to drift apart. However, the common thread of the tragedy runs through each of their adult lives and affects them in different ways. At the end of the story, it is another tragedy that brings them all together again and forces them to confront the past, to deal with their own demons and move forward to the next stage of their lives. At its heart, this novel is an examination of what it means to grow up and become responsible.
At the beginning of this book I worried that I would be disappointed after being bowled over by Jewell’s previous novel. This anxiety increased as I found that the opening chapters did not grip me in the way that I’d hoped. However, I’m pleased I persevered as this novel is what I like to call ‘a grower’. The characters are well-drawn and realistic. The dialogue is natural and not at all clichéd. The family’s matriarch, Lorelei, is complex: idealistic, eclectic, family-oriented, insecure, selfish. At some points in the story I felt great empathy for her and at others I disliked her intensely. For me, this demonstrated what a great writer Jewell is. To have the ability to turn the audience’s emotions and opinions in just a few pages or as a result of a chance remark made by a character shows real skill.
Certain aspects of The House We Grew Up In have stayed with me since I read this book. Not the events of the story or the plot so much as the aspects of a character’s personality, the mechanics of a family unit and the complexities of the human mind.
This is a really great book. If you’re a mother, father, wife, husband, son, daughter, brother or sister, go and read it. You’ll never look at your family in the same way again.
I received a review copy of this eBook from the publisher via Netgalley.