Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones


The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Copyright 2012
Harper - Historical Fiction
260 pp.

The Uninvited Guests tells the story of a single day in the life of the Torrington family in turn-of-the-20th Century England. It's eldest daughter Emerald's birthday. Her mother Charlotte's second husband has gone to town to try to find a way to save their beloved home, Sterne, leaving the family to wonder about the outcome. While preparations are being made for Emerald's dinner party, 9-year-old sister Imogen, aka "Smudge", prepares her own surprise.

Their plans are interrupted, however, by the sudden appearance of a number of bedraggled guests who claim to have been sent by the railroad after a disastrous crash has left them with nowhere else to go for food or rest. The family is unable to contact the train station because of a hinky phone connection and nobody is quite sure what to do with them, although the one thing Emerald hears clearly is that they're supposed to send their cart. Shortly after that, the Sutton family shows up (unfortunately, I don't remember a thing about them) and a neighbor drops by. Eventually, a final guest shows up and he is quite different from the rest. While the son of the family, Clovis, invites the final guest to the dinner party, the other displaced train passengers are ignored.

Why is this particular guest appealing to Clovis while the rest are so easily overlooked? What will become of the passengers? Will they be fed? Will stepfather and second husband Edward Swift find a way to keep the family from having to move to smaller digs?

First, let's ask Ann Patchett what she thinks (e.g., copy the cover quote):

"The Uninvited Guests is at once a shimmering comedy of manners and a disturbing commentary on class. It is so well written, so intricately plotted, that every page delivers some new astonishment. It is a brilliant novel." --Ann Patchett

What I liked about The Uninvited Guests:

While I would not necessarily use the word "brilliant", I agree with the part I underscored. I am very impressed with Sadie Jones' writing. She has a unique, lively turn of phrase so imaginative that I found myself frequently stopping to reread sentences. Style, that's what it is. Sadie Jones has style.

It was the last day of April. She felt the extraordinary softness of the season on her face and braced herself for a strict talking-to; it if must be audible, she ought to at least get some distance from the house.

The air was complicated with the smells of sharp new things emerging from damp soil. Small tatters of clouds dotted the watery sky. To her left was the door to the kitchen garden and stables. Ahead of her, reaching far and further, in the broadest geometrical sweep, was the country over which Sterne presided. It spread out beneath and beyond, reaching into straining, dazzling blue distance, where the fields became indistinct and hills dissolved into nothing.

~p. 3 of Advanced Reader's Edition of The Uninvited Guests (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Descriptions like that quotation above kept me reading, as did the hint of mystery and the crazy antics of Smudge, who has a great plan that involves a horse. I won't ruin that bit for future readers. It's very entertaining. There are some interesting surprises. Unfortunately, I pretty much had the big surprise ending figured out. But, I still did like the concept.

What I disliked about The Uninvited Guests:

The Uninvited Guests is a truly bizarre book. The characters, apart from Smudge, are surprisingly unlikable -- especially Charlotte, who refuses to take charge of her own household, melting away to her room upstairs and completely ignoring the unexpected invaders. Occasionally, the guests spring loose from the room into which they're shuffled or someone pops in to say, "We're working on --" Actually, I'm not sure what they said to the passengers but now and then they were appeased. They were, however, for the most part so thoroughly ignored that I kept wanting to pop into the book to help out. Surely someone could find them a bit of cheese and bread? A little water? Meanwhile, a storm rages. Well, at least you know they won't be sent to the garden.

It was a mystery whether or not anyone would ever take care of those poor stuck passengers in addition to the question of whether or not the family would get to keep the house. I think it might also be anybody's best guess whether or not a reader will care by the end. I found the characters so unlikable that by the time I closed the book, I realized that I actually didn't care whether or not they got to stay in their fabulous estate. It was awfully large for so few people, after all.

Recommendation:

Recommended with slight hesitation. Fantastic writing and a very strange and unique storyline are marred by frightfully unlikable characters. I have mixed feelings about The Uninvited Guests. I can't say I didn't enjoy reading it, but I can't say I loved it, either. In general, I consider The Uninvited Guests an average read. However, since I'm completely besotted with the author's writing style, I'm very happy that I have another of her books, The Outcasts, on my stacks. I purchased it in England, last year, but haven't gotten around to reading it. Wahoo! Something to look forward to!

Note on the cover: The cover at top is the image on the ARC. I'm not sure what the final cover image looks like, although the image at left is the one that is most commonly posted online. I'm quite fond of the ARC cover and dislike the faceless look of the blue one at left, so I opted to put my favorite at the top. I do think the dress in the image at left works better, though.






©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

16 comments:

  1. Hmm, I truly dislike not have even one character to root for. Plus I'm a little confused to the point of this one. At least the writing sounds good. :)

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    1. There is a point, but I'd guess it's a spoiler, unfortunately. The fact that most of the characters are so unlikable is a big problem. I'm actually quite excited about the other book by this author, since I like her writing style so much. So it obviously wasn't a horrible enough read to turn me off. It just didn't totally work for me.

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  2. I'm on the library waiting list for this one. The reviews I've read (including yours) seem to mention both positive and negative reactions all at the same time. It has me very curious about this book

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    1. It's worth reading for the writing style, really, although I'm hoping the storyline is less bizarre in the next book I read by Sadie Jones. I haven't read any other reviews, but I've seen a couple comments on Facebook/Twitter that were similar to how I felt. It's definitely different!

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  3. This one has been showing up on my radar a wee bit. Not enough to register much, but the premise is surprisingly interesting to me. I like bizarre. :)

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    1. Andiloo, I think you'd probably come out of it feeling similar because we both like a touch of the weird and appreciate solid writing. Those characters, though . . . Emerald finally does redeem herself a bit, but it felt a little "too little, too late" to me.

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  4. I have heard that this book has unlikable characters, and that's one of the things that puts me off about it, but I really like the premise and it sounds like the quality of the writing is really amazing. I might hold off on reading this one for a bit, but I do want to get to it eventually. This was a really great review. I liked your balanced approach and your honest evaluation.

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    1. I loved the premise, too. While I was disappointed with the characters, the writing really is stunning. Thanks! This was a hard review to write. I put it off for . . . um, nearly three weeks? Finally decided I just needed to get it done! :)

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  5. I had an even different cover, but mine wasn't an ARC. It was, however, Canadian!

    I enjoyed the farcical quality of the book, and attributed the unlikeableness of the characters to their snotty attempt to stay upper-class. The mother was terrible, but it still seemed to me to fit with a mother who has a nanny or governess and leaves all the details to them. Unfortunately, there was no nanny, so she was just neglectful!

    Smudge was hilarious, and I had a pretty good idea of what was happening with the guests, but couldn't be sure until the end. I enjoyed it more than you I think. I liked it quite a bit.

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    1. Ah, so that explains the third cover image!

      It wasn't the snottiness I disliked; it was the fact that they took so long to stop thinking only of their dinner and consider the train-wreck guests. The wait for them to do something was what really drove me nuts. Although, yes, Charlotte was just appalling, period. LOL

      Smudge was awesome. I did figure out the deal with the guests almost immediately. Lucky guess, maybe? But, I still actually enjoyed that bit, even though it didn't surprise me. I like that kind of touch.

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  6. I've got this one on hold at the library, so I'll be curious to see how our reactions compare. (Given of course that I have time to read it - I've got way too many books on hold right now.)

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    1. I hope you do get to read it, Alyce! It's really an odd book but in a playful way. I don't think I mentioned that. I did like it, of course, just got to where I no longer cared about whether or not the characters got to keep their house. The writing is marvelous. I am dying to read more by Sadie Jones -- as soon as I get through my ARC pile!! Not requesting a thing, right now, so I can come to an ending point with ARCs for a while.

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  7. I won't read this until after I write my review, oK? but I have linked to this in my I-will-write-a-review-someday note...
    :)

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    1. Okie doke. I do that, too. :)

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  8. I found Emerald moderately likeable, although I don't think I said that in my review. I had just a smidgeon of sympathy for her spoiled birthday party when they did end up giving most of the food to the passengers. And then when I found out more, I thought "what a waste!" The race to find them bedding seemed more important, which just goes to show how caught up I got in the silliness of this story.

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    1. Jeanne,

      Thanks for dropping by! Yes, I found Emerald was pretty likable but she sort of lost it in the middle of the book and then came through at the end. I didn't feel sorry for her, though. Her birthday dinner was not all that exciting, anyway, and even though . . . well, you know the deal with the passengers . . . I didn't think it was a waste. I thought it was what they needed to do. The race with the bedding was very silly but nice. I guess I felt like everything was held a bit late, redemption-wise. :) It's definitely silly!

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