26 August 2013

Book Review: The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

"Meet the Bird Family

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."

Rating: 5/5

I have really enjoyed Lisa Jewell's previous few novels, they have been very different stories, and it's been nice to read something a little bit different. I was therefore excited to receive a review copy of her new book The House We Grew Up In. I have to confess I was really intrigued by the title, I wanted straight away to find out all about the house and the Bird family too. The cover is really pretty, nothing striking but it just works for the book in my opinion.  I certainly hadn't expected the story that was inside, and I really loved the book from beginning to end, a real thought-provoker that I look forward to reading again.

From the outside, the Bird family looked like they had it all. Happy mum, happy dad and four children living a perfect childhood altogether in their family home with its rambling gardens. Lorelei has always loved Easter in particular, and everything that comes with it, but one year, that idyllic reality is cruelly shattered forever when a tragedy befalls the Bird family. It breaks up their family piece by piece, and soon most of the Bird family live away from each other, without contact and that's how they like it. Only Lorelei remains in the Bird home, but soon all the Bird children are to return home, but it's not quite the home they left behind all those years ago...

The blurb of this book really doesn't give away a lot about the story or the characters, and I think that is part of the charm when you're reading - you really don't know what is going to happen and why it's happening so I'm going to continue that air of mystery in my review. The Bird family are all interesting people, and you can see why their childhood shapes them to be the adults that they turn out to be, especially the eldest daughter Meg who seems most affected by what her mother does. Lorelei is someone I did struggle to warm to, she seems quite an eccentric person and as things about her are revealed, I was less and less sure about her, and how she could rationalise to herself what she was doing, not only to herself but her family as well. Her relationships with everyone are affected by what she does, although of course it isn't her fault, but it is sad to see a family fall apart over such things.

The book takes place of a time period of around 30 years, flicking between the present day and what the Bird children are currently up to, and this is interspersed with visits to their past, to their childhood and the tragic event that took place one Easter. This event is quite shocking, but Jewell deals with it in such a raw and realistic way, you almost feel the grief along with these characters. It is Lorelei's reaction that sets her apart from the rest, and really sets the tone for the rest of the novel where she is concerned. I did cringe slightly as I read the scenes in the past, where Lorelei was perhaps embarrassing as a mother, and you can understand why her children found it difficult to want to be with her, I really found myself sympathising with Meg who hasn't had an easy life, yet I found Beth and Rory to be less sympathetic, and I really wanted to give them a good talking to!

The vivid descriptions of the Bird house, both in the present day and the past, are fantastically written by Jewell, and you can very easily view it in your minds as the children play in the garden, Lorelei cooks Easter dinner for them or in the later days when Meg returns to her home. It's sad to think what happened to the home, but Jewell writes its decay so well, you feel sad when you read about the state it has gotten into. Jewell covers a very real and serious issue within this book, and it certainly isn't a happy go lucky read. However, it is an emotional read that is very realistic in its portrayal of a family falling apart, and Lorelei's condition as well, and while at times I found it to be quite hard to read, I was utterly glued to it and couldn't stop reading, it was riveting. Jewell has written a superb book here that I heartily recommend, I loved it, and I think it's one of those books that will stay with you long after turning the final page. Brilliant.

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