Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners—including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.
I am a big fan of ghost stories, where things go bump in the night and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and that is what The Upstairs Room promises with it’s tale of a young family and their lodger who move into a house that fills all but one of the adults with dread the moment they walk in the door. That dread grows when they make it to the upstairs room and find a young girl’s name scrawled all over the walls, along with drawings of birds and screaming faces. No matter how many layers of paint the owner Eleanor uses, they come through. Emily’s name isn’t just in this room though, with it’s lock on the outside of the door and scratches on the inside. Eleanor finds it behind furniture, above doors, and in dark corners. She scrubs and scrubs but can’t seem to erase them.
She also can’t convince her husband there is anything wrong. He loves the house, believes they have gotten a bargain. When Eleanor tells him she doesn’t feel well, he tells her she’s tired, when she tells him it’s the house that is causing it, he says it’s not possible. When their daughter starts to act strangely, he says it’s a phase. Clueless isn’t the word for him. Selfish is, and self-involved. I really didn’t like him if you can’t guess.
In fact, I’m not sure I liked Eleanor much as the book went on either, as slowly her and her husbands back stories are revealed and their relationship laid bare. I found her incredibly frustrating but also weak. She never stood up to her husband and the decisions she made were for an easy life, not a life she wanted – including buying the house.
There was a lot about their relationship in this book, and a lot about Zoe (their lodgers) life too. Chapters and chapters where Emily or the house didn’t come into it, and this confused me. Was I reading a ghost story or a wider piece of contemporary fiction with a supernatural element? I really wasn’t sure and, because I thought I was going to be reading one type of book but felt like I was getting another, I found myself frustrated at times. I wanted to get back to the spooky.
I would say it was about half way through when I started to feel like this. Until then, I had been completely drawn in and was enjoying myself. The tension was building, the characters developing, the aforementioned hairs standing up. Then I got lost, and I think the book did too. It seemed to meander between characters and get lost in details. When it finally got back to Emily, I almost felt surprised.
I also felt let down by the ending. I always think that a good ghost story needs to explain the why – why there is a restless soul, what was done to it etc. etc. Here I didn’t get that. I feel like it was just left up in the air with an ending that didn’t satisfy me at all. What I got, overall, was some good spooky bits and a lot of o.k. story in between with characters I couldn’t find myself caring enough for to care about the book.
I feel bad saying that because it wasn’t all bad but, for me, the negatives have outweighed the positives and I am left liking it a little (for the spooky bits) but no more than that. Sorry!