Review published on July 7, 2017.
An effective mix of contemporary suspense and ghost story, this is an accomplished debut that prompted an unsettling feeling throughout. Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters move into what seems like the perfect house. They’ve stretched themselves to buy it but Richard in particular sees it as an investment – a blank canvas which when renovated. But the house unnerves Eleanor, she’s convinced something bad happened there and that it is making her ill. Why are the attic room walls covered with the name ‘Emily’? Who were the previous owners?
This isn’t a book I’d choose to read but I was intrigued by the story and the contrast between the mundanities of everyday life and the potentially otherworldly elements of the novel. Eleanor juggles work, kids and being the perfect housewife to an insensitive husband. It’s takes work to have it all and not of all of us can do it. I have to admit to not warming to any of the characters; I did sympathise with Eleanor’s plight – she is genuinely scared by the sudden onset of symptoms after moving home (that miraculously disappear when she leaves the house) – but husband Richard couldn’t care less. His focus is on the investment and social standing of owning a house in London. I was frustrated that Eleanor didn’t put her foot down and do more, especially as one of her children seems affected too. The family aren’t the only people affected by the creepy atmosphere, lodger Zoe (who lives in the basement flat) feels discord within the walls. She too was an odd character but gave an outsider’s view of the supposedly perfect family living upstairs. I thought the ending was satisfying, it was subtle and in keeping with the rest of the novel, leaving the reader disconcerted rather than going for the obvious approach of shock and awe.
Anyone after a fright will be disappointed with this, but if you like a psychological scare then this will be right up your street.
Vicky Jopling 3/4
The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne
Picador 9781509837588 hbk Jul 2017
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