Tuesday, June 26, 2012

There's Something Strange about "The Uninvited Guests"

What an original, diverting, and enjoyable book “The Uninvited Guests” (Harper, 2012), by Sadie Jones, is! Especially after the beautifully written but difficult, depressing worlds I have recently read about and posted on -- created by the authors of “Reckless Driver,” “Dirt,” “Are You My Mother?” and “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” -- this book is a refreshing change of pace. Not that it is exactly upbeat; there are family, money, and relationship problems, and the unusual problem of a horde of unexpected and certainly uninvited guests who have just been involved in a terrible train accident and need a place to shelter. The family that has to deal with them is a hodge-podge of characters at their country house. Charlotte, the mother, mostly leaves her two young adult children, Emerald and Clovis, and their friends and possible romantic partners, to handle this unique problem, in the midst of coping with other interpersonal issues. It turns out that someone from Charlotte’s past, Charlie Traversham-Beechers (what fun the author must have had in creating this name!) is among the uninvited guests, and he is determined to revisit that past and to exploit the situation to his advantage. As the novel proceeds, it is slowly revealed that not all is as it seems, and a sort of gothic element gradually takes over. But Jones expertly balances that gothic element with the very real issues and interchanges found among the characters, so we readers are kept on edge, not quite knowing where we are and how the story will turn out. This off-balance aspect is what stands out in this novel, along with the intriguing characters and slightly creepy setting. I heard distorted echoes of all sorts of houses, redolent of mystery and the occult, that have been portrayed in other novels over the years. This mixture of mysterious atmosphere with the tart and crisp writing is a winner. Normally I don’t like anything supernatural in my fiction, but this instance is managed so well, and is so firmly rooted in the quotidian that I was charmed and drawn in. What I didn’t feel, however, was any real connection to any of the characters. But I am not sure that the author intended us to feel such a connection; it isn’t really the point of the literary game she is playing. She plays her own surprising game well, and readers are in good hands with this novel.

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