A gothic and chilling debut from Kate Murray-Browne about a young family; Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters who have just moved into what should be their dream home in Litchfield Road. Stretched to the limit, the renovations have to wait and they decide to get a lodger in to rent the basement, so they can afford the repayments. Eleanor feels the strange atmosphere almost immediately and begins to suffer with chronic headaches and vomiting. Richard is also affected but he is channeling his unhappiness into a Masters Degree that he hopes will change his life, his career and help him find that spark that his current role as a solicitor doesn't give him. The lodger Zoe has quit her job to work in an art shop and left her long term boyfriend. She is hoping to write, or draw or something. She too is seeking change. The Upstairs Room is left empty. It's walls covered in scrawls and pictures from the little girl who lived there before. Eleanor asks the neighbours and they tell her there was an accident, something bad happened in that house. As Eleanor becomes increasingly ill and starts to see her older daughter's behaviour changing she knows she must do something. This is a dark and clever book which uses the tropes of the ghost story to examine the anxieties of three people worried about the cost of housing, about being trapped by marriage, by jobs, by reponsibilities. This book will be published by Picador on July 27th in e-book and hardback. Thanks to Don Shanahan for an e-ARC.
I asked the author to take part in my Books that Made Me Series and here are Kate's choices.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James – I first read this when I was seventeen, which is maybe why James’s young heroine ‘affronting her destiny’ appealed to me so much. But it stayed with me, and the ideas about choice, limitation and thwarted desire (not to mention the potential disaster of marriage proposals) all found their way into my first novel, The Upstairs Room.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – I read this on holiday in Mallorca, basically the least spooky setting ever, and I was still terrified. I remember feeling very sad finishing it because I thought it was one of the best books I’d ever read, but there was no way I could read it again as it was so frightening. I have braved it since (during daylight hours) and found the evocation of the house and its inhabitants just as compelling and poignant, marvelling at how skilfully Waters manages the ambiguity of the haunting.
Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy – there are lots of wonderful things about this autobiographical essay, but the thing that stands out for me is the way Levy writes about motherhood – I thought about it a lot when writing about Eleanor, one of my protagonist’s, experience of motherhood. I’m incredibly excited about the forthcoming sequel, The Cost of Living (and I half-wanted to steal the title for The Upstairs Room).
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