I wished I’d loved it more, but I did enjoy The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones. Set in England in the early 1920s, it features a mother, her three children, and their “Step” – her second husband. They live at Sterne, an aging manor house that they are in danger of losing. The Step is off to London to try to borrow enough money to save the house.
Charlotte, the mother, nearing the age of 50, is still a beauty although not a particularly nice person; her husband Edward (who I found the most sympathetic character in the book) loves her so much he will do just about anything for her. The two eldest children, Emerald and Clovis, are also not particularly likeable but can be forgiven some of their faults for their youth. The youngest child, named Imogen but called Smudge, is largely neglected by the rest of her family and spends most of her time in her room in a remote corner of the house drawing pictures of the family animals on the wall. The house is full of animals and servants who play significant parts in the story.
The story takes place on Emerald’s 20th birthday. As the household prepares for the big event, news of a railroad crash comes to them. They are told to expect a number of passengers from the crash who’ll need a place to wait while the railroad sorts things out. Among the guests who arrive is a mysterious man from Charlotte’s past.
The Uninvited Guests starts out as one thing – a Noel-Coward-like comedy of manners – morphs into something else, and then returns to what it was originally. I found it at times very dull and others very entertaining. The author has a droll writing style that struck me a number of times. For example, she describes Clovis at breakfast: “Clovis Torrington balanced the pearl-handled butter knife on his middle finger and narrowed his eyes at his mother. His eyes were dramatic, and he very often narrowed them at people to great effect.”
Unfortunately the author also fills her work with implausible events, some of which don’t quite come off. (An attraction between two of the characters late in the book was particularly difficult to believe.) I certainly did not find the plot predictable, although the final resolution regarding the house does not come as a surprise.
I imagine an audience of readers who will love this book and an audience that just won’t get it. If you enjoy unusual literary fiction, you might fit into the first group and delight in The Uninvited Guests. The Uninvited Guests is scheduled to be published in May 2012.