The Uninvited Guests
- Publication Date:
- 22 March 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
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Great story, a ghost story. Very fast paced with wonderful characters.
This was a book quite unlike any other I have ever read. I can honestly say I only truly liked one character in it and yet the book was a total hoot. Usually when I don't care for the characters I can't stand the book but that was definitely not the case in Ms. Jones satire of Edwardian mores. This will be a very hard review to write without giving the whole of the plot away but I will try.We start by meeting the Torrington/Swifts on the day of Emerald's birthday. Her mother, Charlotte has remarried - to Edward Swift, a one armed barrister. Emerald and Clovis, her brother felt that the marriage happened too quickly after the death of their father. The father who bought their beloved home, Sterne, and then lost all the family money. Edward was leaving to try and save the home. The last member of the family was little Imogen, called Smudge who plans a Great Undertaking on the day of Emerald's birthday.The writing style is very spare, very British. So is the humor. An understanding of Edwardian class distinctions is necessary to true appreciation of the story. So is an appreciation for a British sense of humor. The Torrington/Swifts are veddy, veddy British in their thoughts and quite Edwardian how they treat the lessor amongst them. It makes for some horrifying moments but also for some quite funny moments.All I can say is that if you want a truly unique reading experience this is the book to read. I'll be keeping it to read again because I know this is one of those books that will improve upon a second read.
"It's all been so unusual," says Charlotte Torrington, already bemused and overwhelmed by the time the invited guests arrive to celebrate her elder daughter's 20th birthday at Sterne, the family mansion that they can no longer afford to maintain. Her second husband has gone off to Manchester to try and save the day; Charlotte is left to play hostess to her son, Clovis; Emerald, her daughter; Patience, a young family friend, and Ernest, Patience's brother, as well as bluff young local farmer, John Buchanan. But the evening has scarcely even begun, and it's going to get even more unusual, when the uninvited guests show up. Because before the carefully-planned (and, the reader feels, carefully scripted) events can get underway, comes news that a train has derailed nearby, and Sterne has been designated to shelter the passengers until "the Railway" can come to claim them.From the outset, it's clear that these passengers are unusual. They appear out of the woods; when the cart sent to locate them, returns, it is empty, not having spotted anyone. The passengers, with one exception -- a first class passenger in a red silk waistcoat -- are an amorphous mass whom Charlotte and her family try desperately to contain. "Are those shabby creatures safely shut away in the morning room?" Charlotte enquires. But neither they nor a host of nasty secrets can be contained for long; before long, storms are raging outdoors and indoors, as the inexplicably multiplying number of "uninvited guests" spill out of the morning room and become more and more demanding. The mysterious first class passenger turns out to be a figure from Charlotte's past, and seems bent on wreaking mayhem in her carefully ordered Edwardian life as well as Emerald's birthday party.At first, I admit I battled to read this; the first 50 or so pages felt like some kind of forced route march, and I wondered that what felt like some kind of 21st century version of a century-old Edwardian country house novel had won the kind of plaudits I read among the blurbs. Gradually, I became captivated as events became more and more bizarre. I stopped trying to making sense of what was happening and simply immersed myself in the story, awed by Sadie Jones's ability to morph what first appeared to be a straightforward and even banal tale and twist it into something beyond recognition. The tone was perfect throughout; it's as if Jones had beamed herself back in time and embraced the language and attitudes of an Edwardian novelist, even as the tale she was spinning became increasingly strange.I'm still not sure I like the book -- that seems the wrong word to use. Certainly, at times, it creeped me out at the beginning, when it began to metamorphose from something purporting to be akin to "Downton Abbey" (for want of a better comparison) to a novel that I simply can't compare to anything else I have ever read. There are all kinds of tensions and dysfunctional relationships within the family, as well as between them and their invited guests, who have preconceptions about each other, view each other through different prisms, thinking primarily of what they should want, what they deserve, etc. By the time the dust settles (literally) and the next day dawns, they have all been through a stormy night, literally and rhetorically.This is perhaps the most difficult book I've ever had to review. It is without question a very well-written, clever and witty (not funny, but witty) novel (is it a fable of some kind??), but will it appeal to anyone else?? It's hard to even hazard a guess. This is one that is very much going to be an individual choice; some will hate/loathe it, others will wrinkle their noses; some will be baffled by it and some will be captivated. As I said, like? Not sure. Left in awe at Jones's ambition and imagination? Abso-bloody-lutely. Oh, and I'm glad I read it.
It's Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday, but things are not going well. Her stepfather is headed to London to make a last ditch attempt at saving their beloved home, Sterne; her handsome brother Clovis is sulking and refusing to cooperate with birthday arrangements; their neglected little sister Imogen ("Smudge") is ill, but not so ill that she cannot plot a Great Undertaking. Into this domestic welter comes the news that a train has derailed nearby, and the surviving passengers must seek shelter at Sterne. Arrive they do, as the Torringtons struggle to reconcile proper birthday dinner party arrangements with the increasingly peculiar needs of their uninvited guests. Sadie Jones has an antic way with her narration, and as the story descends into darker and creepier depths, the narration becomes paradoxically funnier. Strangely, this does not detract from the genuinely eerie moments, but rather makes the entire story tenser - as the story gets creepier, the desire to laugh becomes more shocking (yet just as irresistible) to the reader. At least, to me. Gothic, but sparkling, if that makes any sense. It makes sense when Sadie Jones does it.
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