This reading group guide for The Family Upstairsincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Be careful who you let in.
Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am. She learns not only the identity of her parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood. The home, even in its dilapidated state, is worth millions. Everything in her life is about to change. What she doesn’t know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and although they’ve been in hiding, they are now heading her way.
Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old safe and sound in the bedroom. In the kitchen, three dead bodies, all dressed in black, were seemingly posed next to a hastily scrawled note. The four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.
In The Family Upstairs, the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) delivers another powerful and propulsive story of two families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The Family Upstairs is told from three perspectives: Henry, Lucy, and Libby’s. Was there one character in particular whose point of view you especially enjoyed? What is the effect of having Henry’s sections told in first person narration and Lucy and Libby’s told in third person narration? Why do you think Lisa Jewell structured her novel this way?
2. Henry, rightfully, hates David. Yet, Henry and David share many similar tendencies and qualities. Compare and contrast the two men.
3. There are many intriguing characters who do not directly narrate the novel. Is there a character whose point of view you’d have liked to had included? What do you think Martina, for example, thought about David and Birdie’s choices?
4. What is the effect of characters calling Libby “the baby” throughout the novel? How does this inform your opinion of Libby and her role in the story?
5. Which of adult Henry, Lucy, and Clemency’s behaviors can you directly trace back to their harrowing experiences as children? How do you see the influence of their abuse in their grown up lives?
6. The relationship between Henry and Phin is pivotal to the plot, but we aren’t told as much about the friendship between Lucy and Clemency. What details do we glean about their relationship from Henry and Lucy’s memories and Clemency’s account toward the end of the novel?
7. What types of power are wielded in this novel? Who has power, who loses it, and who wants it? Is there a character without any agency?
8. Do you think Henry’s lies and violent acts were born out of his need to survive an unimaginable situation, or do you think there is, as Clemency states, “a streak of pure evil” (page 280) in him?
9. Lucy and Clemency experienced unspeakable abuse as children, but, miraculously, they managed to break the cycle and become good mothers to their children. What are their relationships like with their children? What makes them good moms?
10. After Clemency tells Henry that her father tried to con his own family once, Henry decides he must act against David. As he remembers his conversation with Clemency, he thinks, “It was a fork in the road, really. Looking back on it there were so many other ways to have got through the trauma of it all, but with all the people I loved most in the world facing away from me I chose the worst possible option” (page 274). While Henry claims he would have resorted to less violent ways of escaping the Lamb house, do you really believe him? Or do you think part of him wanted revenge?
11. Libby finds many disconcerting traces of the house’s previous inhabitants when she tours it. Which artifacts did you find the eeriest? Which intrigued you and made you want to find out what had happened inside the house?
12. In your opinion, who is the most tragic figure in this novel? Do they experience healing or redemption?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. When Libby tells Dido that she and Miller are investigating her past and the home she inherited, Dido insists on helping, saying she may be useful because, “I’ve read every Agatha Christie novel ever published. Twice” (page 99). Choose one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries set at a family home with a dark secret, such as Crooked House or Peril at End House, and discuss how Lisa Jewell and Agatha Christie use family homes to similar or different effects.
2. With its atmospheric setting, dark mystery, and twists and turns, The Family Upstairs seems like the perfect book to adapt to a movie. Who would you cast as its stars? Discuss as a group how a director might adapt a book with so many narrators and perspectives.
3. Many of the characters in this novel survived abusive relationships of various types. As a group, consider volunteering at a local women and children’s shelter to support those in your community who are recovering from their own traumas.
“Lisa Jewell has done it again—rich, dark and intricately twisted, this enthralling whodunnit mixes family saga with domestic noir to brilliantly chilling effect.” —RUTH WARE, New York Times bestselling author
“Your hands quake. Your breath fades. Your heart wallops your ribs. Medical emergency or Lisa Jewell novel? Few writers of psychological suspense devise such swift, slippery plots; fewer still people their stories with characters so human and complex. The Family Upstairs glitters like a blade and cuts even deeper.” —A. J. FINN, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
“A haunting, atmospheric, stay-up-way-too-late read. I was desperate to uncover all the twisting mysteries inside The Family Upstairs, layer by tangled layer. Eerie, suspenseful, and completely consuming.” —MEGAN MIRANDA, New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls
“I’ve just raced through the brilliantly dark and disturbing The Family Upstairs. Absolutely couldn’t put it down, it’s so good!” —B. A. PARIS, New York Times bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors
“I’m a big fan of Lisa’s books and had hoped to save it for my holiday next week, but failed miserably by devouring The Family Upstairs as soon as it arrived. I was hooked from the first page, I think it’s her best yet and hands down my favourite book so far this year.” —ALICE FEENEY, New York Times bestselling author of Sometimes I Lie
“Absolutely brilliant. Great characterisation, a fascinating and dark set up and a great conclusion. She’s always great but this is next level stuff.” —SARAH PINBOROUGH, New York Times bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes
“The perfect poolside read. The perfect anywhere read, tbh. This book is riveting, moving, and out in August. Highest possible level of recommendation.” —SOPHIE HANNAH, New York Times bestselling author
“A twisty and engrossing story of betrayal and redemption. Reminiscent of Donna Tartt in scope and quality.” —IAN RANKIN, New York Times bestselling author
“An abandoned baby, a surprise inheritance, a cobwebbed Bohemian mansion—The Family Upstairs is rich in mystery from the very first page, and Lisa Jewell’s best book yet.” —ERIN KELLY, author of He Said, She Said
“A stunning psychological thriller with a horrific, yet all too believable, family story at its centre. Full of atmosphere and menace. I was gripped from the first page.” —ELLY GRIFFITHS, author of The Stranger Diaries
“Lisa Jewell is the most wonderful writer, and funnily enough we’ve written about a similar theme with our new books—cults, in microcosm and macrocosm. The Family Upstairs is out 8 August and I can’t rant enough about how brilliant it is.” —ALEX MARWOOD, author of The Wicked Girls
“Utterly compelling. Deliciously dark and twisty with characters who live on in your head. Lisa Jewell just keeps getting better and better.” —JANE CORRY, author of My Husband's Wife and I Looked Away
“Wow. Lisa Jewell has done it again. I absolutely loved The Family Upstairs. Intriguing, absorbing, unputdownable with characters so real they jump from the page.” —LAURA MARSHALL, author of Three Little Lies and Friend Request
“Whenever I pick up a Lisa Jewell novel I know I'm for a compelling, immersive and unputdownable read and The Family Upstairs is one of her very best. It’s an intriguing, claustrophobic and compelling mystery about a family that comes to stay and refuses to leave. I hugely enjoyed it and couldn't put it down.” —C. L. TAYLOR, author of The Missing and The Lie