Wednesday 26 June 2013

GUEST BOOK REVIEW: The House We Grew Up In (Lisa Jewell)

I am delighted to present a guest review by Super Speedy Reader Mum - aka - my friend Jackie....

When Book Club Mum handed over this book and then sneakily suggested: "perhaps you could write a review?" I surprised myself by agreeing. Lisa Jewell is one of my favourite authors and I'd finished her most recent novel, Before I Met You, a week ago with a joyous bounce and a greedy eye for her next page turner.

With this book, The House We Grew Up In, still unread, my theme was going to be how good it is for children to learn to play on their own, and how my children learned to do this while I, in the interest of good parenting, sat in the garden and chomped through pages and let them get on with it.

This book isn't a romance though. This is a sad book. It's sad in a reflective, thoughtful, gently peeling back the wallpaper sort of way.
Actually, instead of sitting down and reading it in a big chomp I kept stopping to pay attention to my children instead. It was strangely put-downable because the author had done such a good job of evoking the fleetingness of childhood and the short time when they find a rainbow fascinating or want to bake cupcakes in the kitchen but only eat the icing. I'd forgotten how Jewell's stories and characters peel themselves off the page and insinuate themselves into real life.

The story is about an idyllic family named Bird who are broken apart by two tragedies. One happens on Easter Sunday when the four Bird children are teenagers, whilst the other has been unfolding slowly and inevitably since before they were born and continues long after they are grown up.

The children's mother is the personable, childlike Lorelei who, as she unravels through the book, also binds it together with her story. She wants so much to make everything perfect, and then hold on to that perfection forever until her pockets are filled, and her life and heart and house are bulging with mementoes
and memories and lots and lots and lots of Stuff. Lorelei is a hoarder.

It is the back story of compulsive hoarding that drives the novel. Hot on the heels of reading her last book, whose characters felt filmic, solid and real, this felt much more of a story book. It was the story that
shaped her characters. The story that made Lorelei so childlike, that made Megan such a clean freak, Rory the most popular boy in the school, Rhys into the sad and freaky loser and Beth to do what she did. In this book it felt like the characters were shaped by the story, whereas in some of her other novels,
Ralph's Party, The Truth About Melody Browne, Before I Met You it felt like the characters were the ones driving the story.

There were moments too when they seemed, well, a little bit unbelievable. Megan forgave Beth a bit too easily in my opinion and Lorelei - did you really think that she was going to get better after going so far into her illness, with no support but an online lover with a talent for psychoanalysis? I don't think so.
But what I love about Lisa Jewell is that she can't resist a happy ending. If things get a bit unbelievable just to make everything work out, that's absolutely fine by me. I'm all for a bit of magical realism.

So. About halfway through the book, as the threads began to come together I edged my deckchair out into the garden and pulled the big toy box into the middle of the sitting room. My children have learned to play together very nicely now, and they're really getting quite independent. Just the last few pages to go now. Yes darling, help yourself to an ice lolly. Don't trap your sister's fingers in the freezer door. Good girls. Mummy's reading.

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