THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN
By Lisa Jewell
Published in the US by Atria Books on August 12th, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages
Women’s Fiction, Family Drama
Tragedies can break a family apart, but they can also bring that family back together—after all, “we are pebbles of the same beach.”
The Birds used to be a tight-knit bunch, one of those paper-chain families all fun and charming quirkiness: hippie and vibrant Lorelei, her sweet and gangly husband Colin, and their four children. They lived in the Cotswolds, one of the prettiest areas in southern England, in a chocolate-box cottage. Picture perfect—on the surface. Lorelei’s childlike cheerfulness imbued the very walls of their house:
“...she is really quite magical, you know—and when she looks at the world she sees it in a very special way, like it’s a party bag, or a toy shop, and she likes to keep bits of it.”
She’s the kind of woman who never throws away anything colorful, eye-catching, or shiny. Her home is not dirty, just cluttered on a grand scale. She likes to keep ‘souvenirs’ of moments from her family life, things she can look at and remember something that would be forgotten to her otherwise. You would say she is ‘obsessively nostalgic’, ‘overly sentimental’ , or at least this is the lie her weak husband and her accepting kids keep telling themselves for years on end.
Then, on an Easter weekend in 1986, tragedy rattles the Birds’ tightly connected little world—a disturbing twist in the predictable sequence of their sheltered lives made of garden picnics, bedtime hot cocoas, and rainbows. Under the weight of unspeakable secrets and a misplaced sense of guilt, Lorelei’s family, once inextricably connected, disintegrates. And what is worse, Lorelei’s compulsive tendency to collect things reaches a whole new horrifying level:
“...piles of loose, unfettered paperwork, piles of paperbacks, old coats, bin bags full of clothes, random collections of stuffed animals, snow globes, mugs, paperweights and for some unknown reason a pile of deflated pink balloons still tied with curled nylon ribbons.”
Hoarding manifests in a wide spectrum of obsessive behaviors, from shopping addiction, to pet hoarding and unsanitary inability of getting rid of trash, but at its core there is the same compulsion—a coping mechanism, if you will, to control one’s existence and emotions. For Lorelei, her belongings carry an innate energy, the shadow of a memory, and “memory is such a cruel thing, it discards things without asking permission.” Everything she owns is part of the context: throwing her stuff away is like throwing away something that happened.
The Birds' beautiful honey-colored cottage full of childhood memories becomes the work of Lorelei's disordered mind and the physical manifestation of buried issues and emotional unrest affecting every family member. Apart from the past, nothing can hold Lorelei’s family together. Years later, tragedy upon tragedy, that very house where their world was turned upside down seemingly beyond repair becomes a place of healing, forgiveness, and emotional connection.
The House We Grew Up In is a brilliant family drama and an insightful take on the complexities and repercussions of a mental disorder. The author’s choice of themes (mental illness, loneliness, grief, depression, sibling relationships) and structure (dual timeline and multiple points of view) shows emotional intelligence and stylistic finesse: through a variety of perspectives (including an exchange of emails between Lorelei and her virtual friend Jim), the storyline jumps back and forth between 1986 and 2011, adding dynamism and dimensions to the underlying reasons of a sadly common behavioral disorder.
5 out of 5 stars
***An e-copy of the book was graciously provided by the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.
Praises for The House We Grew Up In
“Clever, intelligent, and believable on a subject few of us really understand. Lorrie is one of the most vivid—and complex—characters I've read in years. Wonderful.” (Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You)
“You'll be desperate to find out what messed this family up so badly.” (Sophie Kinsella, author of Shopaholic to the Stars)
“A dramatic look at siblings, parents, and hoarding.” (Redbook)
“...prose so beautiful that it glitters on the page. Lisa Jewell lays down piece after piece of mosaic, revealing the heart of the Bird family, filled in equal measure with love and loss. Unforgettable.” (Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon’s Oak, Finding Casey, and Owen’s Daughter)
About the author
Lisa Jewell (born 19th July 1968, Middlesex, London) is a popular British author of chick lit fiction. Her books include Ralph's Party, Before I Met You and, most recently, The Girls. She lives in Swiss Cottage, London, with her husband and two daughters. Visit Lisa’s website to learn more about her and her books.
Wine & Dessert Pairing
Easter and Spring season in the Cotswolds are recurrent themes in Lisa Jewell’s novel The House We Grew Up In. For this reason, today’s dessert pick is a traditional British Easter recipe: Raspberry and Chocolate Meringue Melt. It’s a luscious dessert, perfect for this season: you can prepare it with just a touch of chocolate flavor or sandwiched with gooey layers of brownies. A heavenly match for a Demi-Sec Champagne or any semi-sweet sparkling wine.