The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones, reads a bit like an Oscar-Wildean type of play: there are the upper class Edwardians – perfectly groomed and mannered characters; the beautiful English manor setting; and a plot that involves a sequence of incredible occurrences, which turns this well presented facade upside down.
The beginning of the novel introduces the stately, yet slowly dilapidating household of the Torrington/Swift family in the midst of a financial dilemma which is threatening the sale of their beloved house, “Sterne.” As Edward Swift, the new husband of Charlotte – and much-resented stepfather to Clove, Emerald and Smudge – prepares to leave for the city to beg for a loan from “an industrialist of low morals”, Emerald is also trying to organise her twentieth birthday party, for whom the guests will be arriving in the afternoon.
The characters, although anxious and unsatisfied, are initially framed against this backdrop of perfect respectability, and the reader can already imagine the kind of formal, tedious birthday celebration that is to be played out for the rest of the novel. However, as the plot progresses the author reveals that this picture of the perfect English family is held together by some very fragile seams, as the atmosphere slowly changes to reveal the unpredictable and dark side of the characters.
The Torrington’s party plans are soon interrupted, as a nearby train accident leaves a group of potentially unsavoury survivors in need of shelter and food for the night. To the dismay of the family, the survivors are put up at Sterne and, not knowing what to do with them, the family decides to ignore them as best they can, while they carry on with the planned birthday celebrations. But, as the night progresses and a storm rages outside, the youngest member of the family is locked upstairs in her room with a mystery creature, while downstairs the doorbell rings to present yet another “uninvited guest” – a man whose name everyone has trouble remembering. With the help of this particular mysterious newcomer, the characters are forced to reveal their inner selves, one after another, as they had never thought possible.
This novel is a perfect mix of suspense, drama and comedy. The writing is refreshingly unpretentious and has great comic timing – the parts of the novel where the main characters are engaged in an almost frenzied rampage around the manor to accommodate the uninvited guests will make you want to laugh out loud, and will have you appreciating the author’s skilful depiction of how the truth can truly set you free.
This is the third novel by the English author Sadie Jones, whose initial career as a script writer seems to have imbued the tone of this narrative, making it lively, well-paced and packed with excellent one-liners. And although the setting of the story pays homage to traditional ghost stories – the isolated and mysterious house, the stormy night etc. – the author really does put her very own spin on it, in a way which will keep the reader turning those pages right until the very end.
The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones, is published by HarperCollins. Available in stores now.