I love reading debut novels. They are newborn, fresh, honest, they don’t carry the pressure to be the-best-novel-I-ever-wrote. They get me excited.
The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne initially grabbed my attention with the beautiful and eerie cover. I love the colours on the cover, and how the shadows work. I have listened this novel on Audible. It was an enjoyable listen. Although the story wasn’t the most original, the storytelling was excellent. There is quite a lot of disappointment expressed about this book, I believe this is due to people’s demand to read a “scary” ghost story. Instead of the mainstream paranormal scary-stuff we have a heavily atmospheric and psychological tale here. I really liked the way it is told. It still manages to give you the creeps but also leaves you lots to discuss and speculate. The narration by Imogen Church was excellent.
Eleanor and Richard are a married couple with two daughters. They managed to buy a ‘project’ house in the desirable neighbourhood of London Fields. Although Eleanor doesn’t really like the house, Richard is chuffed with their buy and thinks it is a clever and strategic move considering London’s crazy housing market, where prices go up almost every minute (as he expresses at some point in the book, estimating how much they’ve made, very sarcastic when considering he doesn’t own the house, it’s mortgaged and he cannot even afford the house without a lodger, therefore the gain isn’t solid.) .
After they move in, Eleanor becomes ill. She obsessively thinks the house is making her ill. Their elder daughter Rosie becoming very unsettled doesn’t help too…The story goes back to Eleanor and Richard’s past, exploring the shadowy corners of their relationship and we get to know them better.
They also get in a Lodger- the quiet and unpredictable Zoe. I think for me, Zoe (and her love life) was the element prevented this book to be a 5 star read. She was a realistic character but didn’t really have a place in the story and I think the plot could have been better without her. She is a bit of a disappointment for herself and everyone she knows, having no direction and real ambition. (She is very similar with Richard in this aspect!)
I loved the character building and I think the characters are very skillfully created for a debut novel. With his middle-class conservative parents, short-lived ambitions and naturally selfish disposition Richard comes to flesh quickly and feels so real. We probably know someone that resembles us Richard. Eleanor is probably the most likable person in this story and her struggle to “be a good mum” is cleverly portrayed. (Although why she married with a man like Richard is a mystery…)
One thing to note is that the author really makes an ironic touch on the housing crisis in London. Maybe that’s the point why Zoe is in the story. Because she cannot afford anywhere else, she has to rent a room of people she doesn’t know. On the other hand Eleanor and Richard have to keep a lodger because their salaries can’t stretch out enough for the mortgage and cost of living. The discomfort of being a lodger/stranger in someone else’s house, and Zoe’s effort to keep her own privacy and avoid crossing Eleanor’s and Richard’s privacy goes equally tense and parallel to the creepy story.
Unlike most readers, I liked the way the story ended. I think it is more elegant to leave things to reader’s imagination, rather than try and explain everything…
My score: 4 out of 5 stars
This book is published by Picador and has:
scores by the time this review is written.