I thought this was an excellent book - well-written, imaginative and thoughtful. Set in a pre-First World War country house, preparations for a birthday party are disrupted by the arrival of a rather mysterious group of strangers who need shelter after being involved in a train accident nearby. The disorder they bring to the mannered Edwardian world has profound consequences for the house's occupants. Although it is very different from either, I found echoes in the book of Priestley's An Inspector Calls and the Nicole Kidman film The Others. Its unusual premise may not be to everyone's taste but I found the whole thing engrossing and it has stayed with me strongly after finishing the book.
Initially I wondered whether it was a little over-written and whether I really cared enough about these people to want to read a whole novel about them. However, it gradually drew me in and quite soon had me spellbound. The characters are well drawn and a subtle, growing sense of menace develops. There is a delicate, inexplicit parallel between the loss of physical order and of the manners and conventions on which the characters have depended, and I thought the fracturing and eventual shattering of this reserve and the effect of this on each of them was very well drawn. Sadie Jones also draws a believable and touching portrait of how propriety, self-absorption and a rigid, misguided sense of duty can smother character and humanity, and how shared adversity can allow genuine human contact to restore them. She also reminds us of the overwhelming importance of simple kindness between people.
The writing style fits the story very well. To try to give you a flavour, after the guests have been fed she says, "Although they were, for the moment, satisfied, their mood had not greatly improved. If anything, there was an increased atmosphere of need; they seemed to suck the very air from the room with their opaque desires." I loved Jones's writing, which becomes almost poetic at the climax of the book.
I am puzzled by some descriptions of this book as a comedy, which I think are inaccurate. I didn't think it was intended as a comedy - I found it involving, thoughtful and ultimately very touching. I think it is an excellent book and recommend it very warmly.