Since 1999, when her first novel Ralph’s Party became the bestselling debut of the year, Lisa Jewell has published an impressive 20 novels and earned widespread fandom that includes the likes of crime writer Ian Rankin and actor Sarah Jessica Parker. In the 2010s, she shifted from writing fiction about relationships to darker, psychological thrillers that dabble in the macabre.
Her latest book, The Family Upstairs, is no exception, throwing readers headfirst into a twisted story of murder, then holding them rapt with her usual mix of suspense and nuanced, deeply human characters.
We got in touch with Lisa to find out what she’s been reading in lockdown, from new obsessions to all-time favourites.
Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe
Now on to two of my favourite psychological thrillers of all time. I started reading Sleep With Me, as I read pretty much all books, in bed, at night. I had a baby and a toddler at the time, and reading was not something I found time to do, ever. Sleep With Me had the honour of being the first post-motherhood book I ever brought downstairs with me from my bedside table, because it had me so tightly in its grip. I can still remember pulling a chair over to the hob so I could keep reading while I stirred something with my other hand, and being supremely grateful to CBeebies for keeping my young children distracted while I raced through the last few pages. It’s the story of a rather brittle young couple, newly engaged and living in Bloomsbury, whose lives are turned upside-down by a strange girl called Sylvie they meet at a dinner party. I love books where strangers appear from stage left and subtly infiltrate and sabotage normality.
The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson
This one would have passed me by if I hadn't taken part in a book club with two other writers for an Apple promotion. We each selected a favourite thriller and then read each other’s choices, and this was one of them. It is the most extraordinary blend of family drama, domestic noir and ghost story. It centres on an old farm cottage in the country. In the early 1900s, it is occupied by a rambling family of many children, where the teenagers take care of the babies and money is scarce and knees are speckled with dirt. One night a man with violently red hair appears in front of the cottage during a storm, moves in and slowly tears their lives apart. In the modern narrative, a grieving couple move to the same cottage a hundred years later, trying to find peace in a world that has taken everything away from them. The two stories coexist side by side, joined here and there by echoes and shadows, the invisible filaments of two desperate families, twisting and untwisting across time.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is out now.