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‘The Family Remains’ Summary And Themes, Explained: Trauma And Violence Define Lisa Jewell’s Latest Read

If you like crime fiction, get hold of Sarah Jewell’s “The Family Remains” without further delay and be prepared to be hooked. The setting, the characters, the unexpected plot twists, and the tension that builds up as it draws closer to the end make it impossible to put the book down before finishing it. It’s an outstanding independent sequel to “The Family Upstairs,” which came out in 2019. Let’s go through the plot briefly to gain a better understanding of what it’s all about.

Spoilers Ahead

‘The Family Remains’ Plot Summary

The book opens with a prologue dated June 2019, where we learn that an individual named Jason Mott has found a bag of bones in the river Thames and has called the police. DI Samuel Owusu takes up the case, and upon forensic examination of the bones, it is found out that they belong to a woman who had died in 1995 with a severe head injury. The woman’s name is Birdie Dunlop-Evers, a musician in a band that had shot a video of their most famous song in a big mansion at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. The background of the video helped the police trace this house, which had Persian silk trees (which are rather rare in London) and trees of heaven in their garden, the leaves of which were also found in the bag containing Birdie’s remains. Clearly, Birdie was murdered in this house. Police reports and articles from newspapers state that a mishap had already taken place in this very house, where three bodies dressed in black were found dead in the kitchen, and a baby was found in a crib upstairs.

Apparently, the three people who were found dead had made some sort of suicide pact, and though there were reports of three to six teenagers missing, no one knew where they had gone. The child who was found in the crib, Libby Jones, inherited the house when she turned 25 last year, which she sold to a couple after that. On another timeline, we find Rachel Gold, a jewelry designer, waking up to a call from the French police stating that her husband, Michael Rimmer, has been found dead in the basement of his own house in Antibes. She isn’t much surprised, and she takes us on a ride through the events in her past—the first time when she met Michael and what followed. Michael was a rich businessman, owning an apartment in Fulham, a house in Antibes, and a few other properties here and there. He was charming, above 40, quite a bit older than Rachel, and had been married once before to a woman named Lucy, which had ended mysteriously with Lucy never allowing him to meet their child Marco.

Michael had been in love with Rachel since the time they met in a pharmacy. They got married after knowing each other for only three months, and on their honeymoon, when Rachel proposed to spice things up in bed, he got angry and turned really cold. Slowly as time goes by, Rachel realizes there is something really weird about Michael; he isn’t what he had portrayed himself to be. He has lost quite a lot of money in his business, becomes completely dependent on her, constantly takes out his frustration on her, and one night ends up raping her while she is asleep. That night, Rachel finally works up the courage to leave him and walk out of his apartment, and later, when she runs a background check on him with the help of one of her friends, Jonno, she finds out that Rimmer is involved in some drug business. He also threatens Rachel’s dad with some pictures and videos of Rachel, managing to suck out all his life savings, which infuriates Rachel even more. We also have Henry and Lucy.

Henry lives in a luxurious apartment in central London and is currently letting his sister Lucy stay with her children Marco and Stella and her dog Fitz with him till the time she gets her own house. He is not used to living with so many people and is clearly disturbed by the commotion and invasion of his personal space. He is also looking for a person called Phin, with whom both he and Lucy grew up and who is also the father of Lucy’s first child, Libby. He is clearly obsessed with him, to the point that over the years, he has changed his appearance and tried to look more like Phin. He wants to find him and flies to Chicago to track him down, which makes Lucy immensely scared and uncomfortable.

Apparently, Henry had tried to hurt Phin previously as well, and she was scared that this time too, he would end up doing something that would blow not only their cover, which they have managed to keep all this while, but also land them in prison for something they cannot actually be blamed for. Lucy is the same Lucy who was once married to Michael Rimmer. She, too, flies off to Chicago, taking her kids with her, to find Henry and stop him from doing what he intends to do.

How Trauma And Violence Shape The Narrative?

Violence is what takes the narrative forward, forming the driving force. Trauma ensues from the violence, causing fear and anxiety in all the characters and forcing them to make decisions to run as far as possible from the memories of the past. Rachel, Lucy, Henry, and Phin are all victims of years of violence, albeit in different ways. While Henry and Phin have had some privileges of being men, the violence that the women characters like Rachel and particularly Lucy have had to face is terrible.

Lucy, being a child, only wanted love, having been neglected by her own parents, and when David Thomsen started giving her attention, she would be pleased. But soon, David started forcing himself upon her. David and Birdie wanted a child together, and Birdie, being unable to conceive, would groom Lucy for the act. Lucy, however, ended up getting pregnant by Phin, and once Libby was born, Birdie took the child away, never letting Lucy touch her or even come near her. All the children would be locked up in rooms and would be starving. All four teenagers managed to escape after Henry managed to kill Birdie and the rest of the adults, but those years of torment left a mark on them all deep enough to change their lives forever. Henry made a career but became obsessed with Phin. He couldn’t make himself find someone with whom he could spend his life because, obviously, a person like Henry, who has been through so much and has so many things to hide, cannot be expected to live a normal life.

Apart from his abnormal obsession, somewhere deep down, he must have known that one day or the other, their covers would be blown, and they would have nothing left to do then. Lucy escaped to France alone and met Michael, who took her from the streets only to harm her even more. Her next partner, too, wasn’t very nice and had left her pregnant and in an apartment with six months of rent due. Lucy’s life was the hardest, and it breaks our hearts to imagine what she might have been through for years and years.

The next time that Lucy is raped by Michael, she does not hold herself back. She kills him with the kitchen knife, and even though killing people is not a solution, we do know that we cannot blame her. Anyone would have done so in their defense. Phin escaped and became Finn and managed to work in some wildlife reserve in Botswana where he didn’t want to be found out by Lucy and Libby, particularly because he was scared to face the truth of what he had done years back.

And as far as Rachel is concerned, having been born and brought up in a loving family, she was entirely shattered by the truth about Michael. The realization of how one rash decision by her has changed her life forever and can change her innocent father’s too drives her crazy. She is adamant about taking revenge, and when she finds out the truth about Lucy, she vows to protect her at any cost. The line between right and wrong gets blurred because of years of violence and trauma, and as Justin said, none of the children could be blamed for what happened in that house for years.

See more: ‘The Family Remains’ Book Review: Lisa Jewell Proves Her Skill As A Brilliant Crime Novelist Yet Again 

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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