Book review - The Upstairs Room, Kate Murray-Browne
With just a hint of the woo-woo for the modern age, THE UPSTAIRS ROOM is a polished and unsettling novel that skates between being a ghost story of a kind, and a very accomplished modern relationship drama. The book has terrific flow. We’re well aware of the ever present malevolent shadow of doom hanging over all occupants of the house, and we also soon realize that all of them are in face suffering from the same malady; only it takes different forms for each of them. The sensation of hopelessness weighing down their actions inexorably creeps them towards disaster and it is a suspenseful journey towards resolution.
THE UPSTAIRS ROOM cleverly taps into common relationship concerns; the imbalance of power, the writing off of women’s real concerns as female melodrama and people’s ability to live in the same house as others and yet live separate lives. The people in this book are trapped by financial restrictions, societal expectations and then there’s the whole creepy house syndrome doing no one any favours. THE UPSTAIRS ROOM is a deliciously spooky read which includes an immersive personal narrative of three complicated adults who find themselves adrift in their lives whilst at the same time unable to distance themselves from the problems that haunt them.
Is it the house itself that is making Eleanor sick or is it the disturbed vestigial imprint of those who lived it in before?
Eleanor is a pragmatic working mother of two who sees the sense in buying a rundown Victorian to move her young family into. She also recognizes the wisdom in her husband's suggestion to place a lodger in on the basement level to help cover the costs of upkeep. Richard is more in love with idea of a fixer-upper than Eleanor herself is but sometimes it is easier to just let Richard have his way. He is working part time and so is Eleanor but there isn't much of a balance in the management of domestic duties. The dissatisfaction that Eleanor increasingly feels at first begins to creep up on her in odd insidious ways. There is plenty of room in their new home for all of their things and it is certainly in a desirable location. Odd how they managed to snag such a good deal though.
Throughout the house are little evidences of the former residents. It is frustrating that it only seems to be Eleanor who is bothered by the belongings left behind and the freaky room upstairs with walls covered with pictures of birds and scribble. Unsettling that the lock is on the outside of this room and that there is clear evidence that someone was once trying to claw their way out.