‘The House We Grew Up In’ by Lisa Jewell

Ever seen a reality documentary (shock-umentary) about hoarding? The objective in producing such a ‘slice of life’ seems to be more about sensational shaming and humiliation, than about gaining empathy or information about fellow human experience. Hoarding is generally regarded as a serious mental illness (in the OCD family) and has mental, psychological, social, and physical consequences for many. The disorder deserves a more sympathetic treatment than the media often gives it.

This novel by Lisa Jewell is an attempt at that, trying to get at the core reasons for this disturbing dangerous behaviour and how it can affect families. Lorelei, the main character, is a vibrant mother who loves to gather her chicks for Easter and displays her children’s artwork on the walls of their cozy kitchen. While Lorelei knows how to love people, she doesn’t know how to care for them. The idyllic scene eventually gives way to tragedy and dysfunction. It reminded me of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, a true story of a severely dysfunctional family.

What makes a person become a hoarder? How do families deal with such a problem? What might cause them to dismiss or defend something that clearly is out of control? The author definitely creates a compelling family drama, interesting in its own right, while at the same time attempts to give insight into how an average family affected by hoarding might cope (or not cope) with it.

Lisa Jewell has recently come on my author radar and I will look forward to reading more of her books. This one was written 10 years ago, while a more recent one that I read not long ago, called I Found You, was more suspenseful– in the category of what we now call the domestic thriller.

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