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‘The Family Remains’ – Analyzing The Character Of Henry Lamb In Lisa Jewell’s Latest Read

There are several characters in “The Family Remains,” the major ones being Henry Lamb or, more precisely, Henry Lamb Jr., Lucy Lamb, DI Owusu, and Rachael Gold. One of the characteristics of a good thriller is definitely characterization. The plot, the suspense, the setting, etc., are very important, no doubt, but delving deep into the characters, especially the major ones, and just sketching an outline of them merely would definitely make a good thriller a brilliant one. This is what Lisa Jewell has done in her latest novel. If she wanted, she could have just drawn an outline of the characters, narrating the chain of events from a third-person point of view or just from one character’s point of view, but it is indeed interesting how so many characters are narrating the events. It has definitely contributed to the building up of the characters bringing the readers closer to them, which was very important, especially when the entire plot in itself deals with something so disturbing psychologically.

Henry Lamb Jr. is one of the main characters in the novel. He lives in a luxurious apartment in central London. He mostly lives alone with his two cats, but for more than a year, his sister Lucy, her children Marco and Stella, and their dog Fitz have been staying with him in his apartment. When he narrates events from his perspective, we get to know that he is not quite pleased with this invasion of his personal space and is quite disturbed with how his apartment is now being kept and how the children are constantly watching television or being noisy. He enjoys the company of the dog, but he is displeased with everything else. He wants his sister to get her own place, as she has always intended, as soon as possible.

Henry is in his early 40s and is homosexual, and though he wants to be in a relationship and yearns for the company of someone close after coming home from work, he cannot bring himself to be in a relationship. It mostly has to do with his past, which is chaotic and traumatizing. He has been in love (according to him, but to the readers, it would appear as an obsession) with Phineas Thomsen, a guy he grew up with, ever since he was a teen, and after he lost touch with him, he has only had occasional flings. He even has tried to look like Phin, dying his hair blonde, using lip fillers and whitening his teeth, and on multiple occasions has called himself Phin too.

At first, we are confused as to why someone would try to look like someone they love, but as he narrates things from his point of view, we gradually understand the kind of obsession that he has had with Phin, and he does all of these to feel closer to him. Deep down, he knows that looking like him and taking his name would not make him Phin or bring him closer to him, and truth be told, the Phin he has been obsessed with was also a teen back then, so he is probably impersonating someone who no longer exists because the Phin he knew must have grown up and changed in so many ways. But he still cannot stop doing these things.

Later, when he gets to know that Miller Roe and Libby have found him and he is actually in Botswana, he decides to accompany them on their trip to Africa, eager to find Phin and meet him. Soon when they get to know that Phin has left, he does a quick search on the internet and, after talking to a woman, gets to know that he calls himself Finn and probably has some relatives in Chicago. Henry knew that Phin had no family in Chicago because his sister and mother stayed here in the UK. He connects the dots and makes a guess that if Phin, or Finn, as he called himself now, was looking for a place to hide from people, then he might go to Chicago for a few days. Without telling anyone, he books flight tickets to Chicago, leaving Lucy to worry about what he might be up to. He himself wasn’t clear as to what he would be telling Phin once he got to meet him, but he wanted to see him and get himself closure. But about what?

Later it is revealed that when Henry and Lucy were young, their house, which was at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, was infiltrated by a con man named David Thomsen, who brought his wife and children along with him. David Thomsen’s son was Phineas Thomsen, about whom Henry was obsessed. Another woman named Birdie also stayed with them; she was having an affair with David, and both of them tortured the children. They would lock them up, not give them anything to eat, and even force Lucy to sleep with David. When Phin got Lucy pregnant, after the child (Libby) was born, they took her away, never letting her see her again. Henry somehow managed to kill his parents and David Thomsen by giving them a poisoned potion, and he managed to kill Birdie as well by hitting her on the head with an elephant tusk. It must be made clear that even though killing them was not a solution, poor Henry had no choice. He desperately wanted to save the rest of the children and himself, and when all the adults were acting so ridiculously, he decided to take the matter into his hands and do whatever he needed to defend themselves. This incident clearly changed his life forever. He wanted to apologize to Phin for all those times when he got frustrated with him not returning his affections and decided to take it out on him.

But as readers, we have a different idea altogether about Henry. Till the end, we think that he must have hurt Phin after meeting him, and he is the real villain because of the way he is portrayed by the author. Sure, there are some very problematic aspects about him, like his habit of impersonating people. He impersonates Phin for the most part of the book, and in the epilogue, we find him impersonating Kris Doll, who was once Phin’s partner, to whom Henry became coincidentally attracted too as well. But why impersonate people whom you like or love? Surely, they are not his idols? Or are they? Maybe they are his idols, and he wants to be them while also feeling a sense of attraction towards them, but at his core, he does this mostly because he doesn’t know who he is.

The incident had changed him forever, and he surely didn’t want to continue being the person that he was when he lived in that house because that was the “lousy” and “selfish” person who had killed his parents. He had to change his identity, too, and make fake passports so that no one could track him down. His obsession with becoming Phin was not just out of love but because of the absence of company of the people who knew him or would understand him too. And amidst all of this, he went farther and farther away from the person he really was or should have been when he grew up. Impersonating others made him feel like he was gaining a sense of everything around him and gaining a sense of himself too. It’s like being an actor, not on stage but in real life, and not acting because he hopes to gain something out of it other than some sort of mental sanity that we cannot ever understand.


See more: ‘The Family Remains’ Ending, Explained: Who Killed Justin And Michael? What Happens To Phineas Thomsen?


Anantaa Ghosh
Anantaa Ghosh
Anantaa has completed her graduation and post-graduation in English literature. She works as a guest lecturer and is an avid and enthusiastic reader. She is deeply passionate about rivers and wants to pursue her research on water narratives.

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