Cults, Control, and Sadism: A Story for The Ages

To say The Family Upstairs is a creepy story, is a like saying the phrase ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ has a funny history. Featuring a cult possession of a wealthy English family in the late 1980s, this is a coming of age story in a most adverse environment.

This is a family composed of two seemingly ‘normal’ parents, and their two ‘normal’ young children. We learn that coming from wealth, and privilege offers no buffer from madness.

This slow dissent into cult possession is scarily realistic. It doesn’t happen over night, but is drawn out slowly over the course of some time. As a Master of Suspense, Jewell realigns the boundaries of what is normal in this household. As a reader, you too gain a greater tolerance for change. Inch by inch, and room by room, the house and family within changes to the point of being utterly unrecognizable.

It wasn’t until you stopped to consider where the family started – a prominent, wealthy family of society with an active social calendar, to a reclusive cult like hermitage, without shoes or food. Without any comforts of the modern world.

It’s a shocking thing to imagine, a family dissenting into madness with such determined focus on self destruction. It felt real enough to really frightening. The atmosphere in this story perfectly alighted to my memory of the 80s and 90s. Written from different points of view, you gain important insights into the impacts of this possession from key moments in time. Every page felt tense, like a hatchet was going to drop on your face at any moment. Violence seems imminent.

The scariest part, at least for me, is the parents. As a parent myself, I really struggled to understand how in the parental duty to protect the children, a parent would permit a cult to take over, control, rape. The story is written from the perspective of the kids, so it’s impossible to know what the parents were thinking. However, I was stuck on every description of their actions and reactions, trying to discern their thoughts. I kept coming back to the fact that Jewell must have done some serious research into the psychology of cult control. The ultimate dissent into a place they couldn’t come back from was startlingly complete. It was a grand and irreversible flop to rock bottom.

Lisa Jewell is one of my favorite authors. I felt super lucky to snag an advance reading copy of The Family Upstairs from Atria!

I highly recommend this story by a warm fire, a glass of red wine, with a cozy blanket.

The Family Upstairs: A Novel by Lisa Jewell