The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Author: Sadie Jones
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Edwardian / English Estate / Upstairs - Downstairs / Disaster / Domestic Horror)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (5/1/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Looooooooooooooooooved like a loving thing.
Did I finish?: I inhaled this in one day!
One-sentence summary: One country estate, one prickly family, one birthday party, and one train disaster equals a night of revelation, drama, desire, heartache, ugliness and unexpected joy.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- it references a scene in the novel and captures the Edwardian feel just perfectly. (Also, the end papers are too cute for words, referencing a particular character -- perfect!)
I'm reminded of...: Djuna Barnes, E.M. Delafield, Stella Gibbons, Molly Keane, Ada Leverson
First line: Since her marriage to Edward Swift, three years after the sudden death of her first husband Horace Torrington, Charlotte had changed her position at the breakfast table in order to accommodate her new husband's needs: specifically, aiding him in the spreading of toast and cutting of meat, owing to his having suffered the loss of his left arm at the age of twenty-three in an unfortunate encounter with the narrow wheels of a speeding gig, out of which he had fallen on the driveway of his then home in County Wicklow.
Did... this book remind me of a variety of early 20th century authors I love?: YES. From the droll hilarity of E.M. Delafield and Stella Gibbons to the weirder and creepier edginess of Djuna Barnes, this seemingly simple story of one family was layered and rich and twisted.
Did... I literally gorge myself on this book?: YES. I couldn't stop quoting lines on Goodreads; the turn-of-phrase and language was just divine.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this book is a delight!
Why did I get this book?: I loved Jones' previous novel, Small Wars, and I'm a sucker for this genre and style of fiction.
Review: I loved this book. I loved Jones' writing style, her language, her use of words -- I literally was jubilant while reading, delighted by the multifaceted bounce of her narrative and dialogue. The text of this novel had personality, was a character in this story, and the tale it offered captured me from the first line.
Set in 1912 at Sterne, an isolated English country estate, the story focuses on one night with the Torrington family: Charlotte, a 50-ish beauty with a cold demeanor and a loving second marriage; her three children -- Clovis, dark and bitter, Emerald, sweet and loyal, and Smudge, young, imaginative, and often forgotten; her second husband, the one-armed Edward Swift; Florence Trieves, a housekeeping in mourning; and Emerald's birthday party guests. On the eve of her party, the Torrington's learn of a terrible train accident that requires them to house the Third Class passengers until the railway company can send them on their way, and that is when things really begin to unravel. These uninvited guests provoke the Torringtons and their invited guests in ways none anticipated, and an eventful night transforms into something horrific, frightening, and illuminating for all.
I've read reviews that said this family was so unlikeable it was impossible to enjoy the story; to me, the characters were quite flawed but so human, I felt rather tenderly toward them, even Charlotte (who I think is the most despicable, mostly for her treatment of her children). This is a family raised in Victorian mores and ideals, living in an Edwardian society of flashy beauty and changing values, formerly affluent but now dependent on the possibility of a loan to keep them afloat. When I closed the book, I could say I loved every single character in this novel -- every one. They were real, anchored solidly by Jones' marvelous turn-of-phrase (the dialogue! the descriptive passages!) and given flight by the ludicrous and chilling plot. There's a madcap pace to the end of the novel that strained credulity (and shockingly, it wasn't the supernatural elements!) but I loved it for pushing me past my expectations.
Part domestic drama, part class exploration, part spoof on English country life, The Uninvited Guests is a fascinating, creepy, and moving look at obligation, motivation, and loyalty. Gushingly recommended.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Uninvited Guests to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/1.