Book reviews, Ghost/gothic, Literary fiction

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

The Upstairs Room is a tense, gripping thriller that will have you hiding under a blanket by chapter two.

The Upstairs Room

What’s it about? 

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

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.

What’s good about it?

Ah, so much.

The eerie atmosphere described above is one of the best I’ve read in ages. It isn’t just tangible – it’s a character in this brilliantly tense and suspenseful narrative. Scenes in the empty upstairs room, in which objects move on their own, writing appears on the walls and there is a pervading sense of not being alone, are exquisitely crafted in the vein of great British horror writers like Susan Hill and Daphne du Maurier. My shoulders hunched and my breath quickened as I raced through the supernatural splendour of this book.

Murray-Browne paints detailed portraits of Eleanor, Richard and Zoe. This is not just a bored middle-class couple looking for a fixer-upper, nor a spoilt millennial crashing in their basement. These characters have back stories, are very well-rounded and utterly convincing in their delivery. The plot is as much a commentary on the current housing crisis and our willingness to mortgage ourselves into bankruptcy to secure our dream home, as it is about the relationships of these engaging protagonists. It is distinctly of its time while borrowing the best tropes of Victorian Gothic fiction.

The book is tightly edited and every word earns its place in this precisely crafted narrative. I expected nothing less, of course. Murray-Browne is an ex-editor for Faber and her editor, the lovely Francesca Main of Picador, has been responsible for bringing some of my favourite reads of recent years to the market.

What’s not so good about it?

Not much at all.

No explanation is provided for the supernatural occurrences, which I suspect will frustrate some readers. However, the sanity of characters, and their role in their own experiences in the house, is questioned throughout the book so it’s fitting that the ending is left open to interpretation.

There is not much more I can say about the book without giving away the plot so I’ll sign off now.

The Upstairs Room is a wonderful book infused with suspense, twists and fantastic characters. Read it immediately – but not on your own.

The book is out on 27 July in hardback.

Thanks to Picador for my preview copy.

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