Countdown to New Year’s Eve 2- The Family Upstairs

With 10 days to go until the release of New Year’s Eve, I decided to post every day about an influence on the novel.

The Family Upstairs- the incredibly popular novel by Lisa Jewell- is another thriller, like Those People and The City and the City, with class on its mind. But by now, I’ve spoken about about this theme enough. For this post, I want to focus on the significance of the house in the novel: it’s an important part of Jewell’s book, and an inspiration for a lot of the imagery in New Year’s Eve.

Jewell’s novel begins with the main character finding out that she has inherited a property with a lot of monetary value– only to discover that the building harbours dark secrets from her family’s past. Here, then, the house is a symbol of wealth which then turns into a place of secrets, violence and immorality. The apartment block in New Year’s Eve transforms in a similar way– from a token of prestige and social mobility to a setting of horror and entrapment.

What fascinated me about The Family Upstairs was how Jewell used the geography of the building. Nearly all of my book takes place in the flats, stairways and balconies of a place called Palace Gardens. And I was encouraged by the Family Upstairs, which also gives these passageways of the building a significance and weight. Many of the clues to the final mystery are to be picked up from what is overseen, or overheard, from different corners of the building. This gives the house an unsettling atmosphere; it becomes a place of intrigue, and repression.

The Family Upstairs By Lisa Jewell

This depiction of the house was something I was keen to reflect in my novel. I tried to think of Palace Gardens in almost psychogeographical terms, where the different characters are mapped out into different rooms and flats according to their status and mindsets. I wanted to capture a quasi-gothic sense of the building, where social class and levels of madness define your location in the property. I love the fact that in old horror novels the house itself was often an antagonistic force, and I was encouraged by The Family Upstairs to apply this onto the setting of a modern thriller.

Something which also helped me with this is a little-seen film called The Ones Below, a gripping movie where the geography of a block of flats is crucial to the story. In this film, Clemence Poesy’s character plays a new mother who finds herself constantly spying on the family living below her, and she begins to suspect her neighbours of plotting to take her child.

The Ones Below - Wikipedia

In both The Family Upstairs and The Ones Below, there is a new kind of horror setting: a middle-class London household. The titles themselves are a reference to the building, and the protagonists’ location within; they state the key premise of both novels– that a stranger is living within the same walls as you, and that they cannot be trusted.

Like my protagonist in New Year’s Eve, I myself lived in a lovely flat in North London for some years. I loved it, but, like just like Hayley, I had just moved from a very different (and far less prosperous) area, and the adjustment was more disorientating than I’d anticipated. I enjoyed my flat, but was unsure about the building I lived in. The neighbours were, at first, standoffish. Rude, even. It was like they suspected that I was going to ruin things for them in some way.

And it was in this environment– the London apartment block– that the story of New Year’s Eve started to take shape. I began to understand how an enviable building on the window of an estate agent could be turned into a place of horror and mystery.

And I turned to thrillers like The Family Upstairs and The Ones Below to help me figure it out.

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