on 1 July 2014
Hesketh Lock is a unique figure in the world of anthropology; his Asperger's syndrome allows him to objectively analyse patterns in human behaviour that others overlook. He is never short of work as big businesses take advantage of his talents to assess their employees' habits in order to maximise their profits. While investigating an unusual case of whistleblowing and sabotage in a factory in Taiwan, Hesketh becomes aware of bizarre news reports from home. What starts as an isolated incident of parricide becomes a global epidemic as young children all over the world turn inexplicably against their loved ones. As his own stepson Freddy begins to exhibit increasingly sinister behaviour, Hesketh must use all his expertise to try to get to the bottom of this most disturbing phenomenon.
Liz Jensen has impressed me before with The Ninth Life Of Louis Drax and The Rapture. Here, Jensen revisits the dystopian, apocalyptic themes of The Rapture, but handles them in a far more understated manner. If you're looking for a straightforward horror novel with creepy zombie children and gratuitous gore you won't find it here. Instead, we explore how a community might react under pressure to a truly inexplicable and sinister global threat.
Hesketh is a strong lead character and it is easy to empathise with him. I liked that he is a well-developed character in his own right rather than simply a one-dimensional caricature of Asperger's syndrome as I have sometimes found in other novels - neither overbearingly 'quirky' nor an emotionless robot. Instead, we see how his Asperger's affects him in more subtle ways and how his analytical habits lead him to see situations slightly differently from the majority, which really added to my enjoyment of the book.
I was pleased to find that Jensen doesn't tie all the plot strings up in one neat and tidy bow. The premise is so far-fetched and outrageous that to have a flawless conclusion would have been far too convenient and implausible, in my opinion. However, it is worth bearing in mind if you're considering picking this one up, as I know many readers aren't satisfied with an ambiguous ending.
This really is a disaster novel with a difference. An unusual and thoughtful little book that I enjoyed very much.
on 13 December 2012
A really excellent read that kept me gripped throughout. The premise is a really interesting and very timely one regarding the way we treat our world. The idea of children becoming revenge-seeking automatons is a disturbing one and was really well played out in the book. The reader finds themselves gripped from the start as we read about a young girl in leafy Harrogate, ready for bed in her pretty butterfly pajamas who kills her grandmother with a nail-gun to the neck. It's a brutal beginning and certainly one that makes the reader want to read on.
I particularly enjoyed the narration by Hesketh a man navigating his way through life with a brilliant academic mind and a deep misunderstanding of human relationships thanks to his Asperger's.
"We are all liars bud. It's human nature'. No, I thought. He's wrong. Through a quirk of DNA, I am not part of that 'we'. I can get obsessive about things. Or sidetracked. I can appear brutal too, I'm told. But I know right from wrong. And I revere the truth. So you will at least find in me an honest narrator'.
And we do. He is a brilliant choice for a narrator in that he is set slightly apart from the other characters who get swallowed by hysteria and anger at what is happening around them. In Hesketh we get a narrator who, whilst taking part in the action can also stand back and tell it like it is. His complicated relationship as an ex-almost-stepfather to Freddy filled the emotional gap and made Hesketh a totally realised character. His attempts to connect with people by making them gifts of complex origami was also very touching.
Overall I enjoyed this much more than The Rapture as I felt the characters were more developed and the premise was well played out. Not much cheer in this dystopian nightmare, but a great read, recommended for those looking for a psychological thriller with teeth.
The Uninvited is the third of Liz Jensen's novels I've read. Like the previous two, The Rapture and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, it features sinister children who appear to have mysterious, possibly psychic abilities. It also returns to The Rapture's theme of a world teetering on the edge of dystopia. I can't quite decide whether this means Liz Jensen is shamelessly recycling ideas or whether she has simply invented her own genre, but because I enjoy her work so much, I'll veer towards the latter.
The Uninvited begins with two apparently separate phenomena which seem to be occurring worldwide. One is a spate of murders committed by otherwise non-violent children, and the other is a series of incidences of industrial sabotage. The novel's narrator Hesketh Lock is an anthropologist whose Asperger's Syndrome, while problematic when it comes to social interaction, provides a degree of detachment that's useful in his job as a troubleshooting consultant specialising in analysing corporate cultures and behaviours.
Hesketh, sent by his employer to investigate seemingly unconnected sabotage attempts in large industrial firms across the world, soon begins to notice patterns and similarities which, he argues, can't possibly be coincidental - and what's the connection with the sabotage incidents and the sudden outbreak of murders by young children?
The matter-of-factness of Hesketh's narrative style is comic and tragic by turns in contrast to the drama, and indeed horror, of the events he describes, and his blunt honesty, despite his ex-partner Caitlin's cruel jibe that he is 'a robot made of meat', is endearing. Even more endearing is his love for Caitlin's young son Freddy, which is unconditional yet strangely unsentimental. When the world is falling apart in ever more disturbing ways and chaos begins to descend, it's Hesketh's unceasing rationality that seems far more compassionate than the kneejerk hysteria of those around him.
If I was to compare Liz Jensen's work to anyone else's, I'd say there are shades of John Wyndham there, perhaps similarities to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. There are strong science-fiction elements to The Uninvited, and it has the tight plot and tense mystery of a thriller, but it's so much more than that. The clues that build up to the story's conclusion don't just come from the plot, but also from the language and behaviour of the characters. For instance, Hesketh has taught Freddy to respond to the phrase 'I don't know' by replying 'Not yet': this is just a rather sweet affectation between the two of them, but comes to seem chillingly significant later on.
The overall vision of The Uninvited is a bleak one and it's not always a comfortable read, but there are sparks of hope there and it's not without humour too. Liz Jensen is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.
on 29 January 2014
Recently, I've tended to read books that I've heard a lot about and that come heavily recommended. I'd never heard of this book before I started reading it, and it's not really my normal genre, but I spotted it in a charity shop and the premise - young children all over the world start killing their parents - intrigued me so much that I had to give it a go.
On the whole, I'm not disappointed that I did. Throughout, the writing is really brilliant, especially for what's ultimately basically a thriller. It's narrated by Hesketh, a brilliant anthropologist with Asperger's Syndrome. I think the autistic narrator concept has been a bit overdone in recent years, and I groaned a little when I realised that it was being used here, but it actually worked really well. Making Hesketh extremely physically handsome but utterly socially dysfunctional made for an interesting dynamic - he gets about as much attention from women as James Bond, but let's just say he doesn't handle these situations quite as smoothly! I ended up really liking Hesketh, both as a character and a person, and his strange, fact-filled narration really made the book for me.
The plot of the first half was utterly compelling. There are several instances from all over the world of very young children killing their parents, and other instances of good employees sabotaging their companies and then brutally killing themselves. The connection between the individual cases and the two types of cases is unclear, but there are weird factors that keep cropping up - those affected eat lots of salt, eat insects, have problems with their eyes. They talk about being possessed by strange children, and in a very clever move, characters from around the world blame the same issues on different beings from their own superstition - whether that's jinns, trolls or UFOs. Throughout this section, I was racking my brain trying to link together the little clues and work out what was happening. I also found it fantastically creepy and disturbing - perhaps even outright scary. I don't know whether it was fear or the need to solve the puzzle of the plot that kept my awake the night that I read the first half in a mad rush, but I certainly didn't get much sleep, and couldn't wait to start reading again the next day.
The second half wasn't bad, but it didn't grab me in the same way. The more extreme the international situation became and the more people died or started displaying the odd symptoms, the less I cared. I was reminded of that old quote that "one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic." Furthermore, the story took an odd soap opera style turn, with far too much time spent on Hesketh's relationship with his ex-partner, her new lover, and a behavioural scientist he was interested in. That said, there was a very well handled twist in the story of the breakdown of his relationship, and his bond with his stepson was utterly touching.
So even if it had dipped a little in my estimation, I was still rushing towards the end, dying to reach the big reveal, see how the crisis would be resolved, find out just how the little clues fitted together and find out what exactly had been going on. And then I reached the last chapter, and it did none of that. It reminded me of when kids write stories, tie themselves up in knots, panic and conclude with "and then I woke up and it was all a dream." Okay, that's not literally what happens - the events are perfectly real - but readers are given no proper explanation of how this has happened or how it's going to end. Just as irritatingly, the narration suddenly takes on an overly heavy handed environmentalist message and seems to imply that all the murder and barbarism we've seen is okay, because maybe it will stop global warming.
In conclusion, this is a well-written and gripping thriller with an interesting sci-fi or paranormal edge and a great protagonist. It's definitely worth a read, just don't expect all the little hints and mysteries to coalesce. If it wasn't for the ending and certain bits of the second half, I'd have considered giving five star, as it was I was so disappointed that it nearly ended up with a three. But it kept me thoroughly entertained and intrigued for hours, so I'll just pretend the last couple of chapters never happened.
Hesketh Lock is an anthropologist with remarkable talents. He isn’t good with relationships but he’s incredibly good at spotting and analysing behavioural patterns. Therefore, when he’s called to investigate corporate cases of whistle-blowing in Taiwan and sabotage in Sweden, he’s looking for the individuals’ reasons for their actions. What he finds is something far more sinister, wide-reaching and difficult to analyse, as it seems that children across the world are embracing violence. Hesketh needs to rise above his natural inclination towards the logical, as the world around him becomes increasingly chaotic.
The Uninvited is an incredibly compelling read. Originally it feels like a mystery to be solved but as things develop the novel takes on an almost apocalyptic feel, raising many questions about our approach to life, overpopulation, the damage we do as a species. Casting Hesketh in the role of the main character adds an extraordinary twist that prevents this from being ‘another dystopian novel with a sexy hero’. Hesketh is good looking, smart, intuitively analytical but he is not a typical hero. He has Asperger’s Syndrome and this means he is not intuitively emotive or able to pick up ‘people signals’ easily. That said, this is also the reason he is a remarkable character in many other ways, such as his ability to be rational. He is also a wonderful step-father, showing a real tenderness towards his step-son, even when he becomes violent. He is not ‘a robot made of meat’ – a phrase that comes up repeatedly throughout the novel, having being cruelly levelled at Hesketh by his ex.
The Uninvited is wonderfully written with a great array of characters, situations and plot points. The ending was unexpected but touchingly satisfying. I read this in two sittings and enjoyed it immensely.
**I received a copy of the book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.**
on 20 October 2013
I struggled with this book at first and it took me quite a while to get into it, but I'm glad I persevered. The main problem I had with the book was the narrator in the form of Hesketh Lock. Hesketh has Asperger's and whilst there have been a couple of books I've read that feature a narrator with this syndrome (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time being the most famous), I didn't feel that it was very deftly handled in this book. In my opinion, when the author first introduces us to the character, there's something of "over-egging the pudding" going on as it is brought to the reader's attention over and over again that Hesketh is not like his fellow humans. Of course, I can see why the main character's disassociation from the human race would work in the context of this story - however, I felt that the initial introduction of him, and his syndrome, was somewhat clumsy.
That said, I'm glad I stuck with the story. Hesketh doesn't really get any more likeable but I got used to him and the story still made for a compelling dystopian novel. I liked the way the author linked the theme of fairy stories, changelings, myths from various cultures and bible stories with the children who are "uninvited" into the "old world" as they see it. I did guess the end when I was 75% of the way through my Kindle edition, but I still, on the whole, liked this book. I've not read The Rapture but I've got to say the two do sound remarkably similar.
"Mass hysterical outbreaks rarely have identifiable inceptions, but the date I recall most vividly is Sunday 16th September, when a young child in butterfly pyjamas slaughtered her grandmother with a nail-gun to the neck."
From this visceral and arresting opening, we know we are in safe hands with this book: Jensen has written a narrative which is by turn spooky, terrifying, disturbing and unexpected. Every word feels measured and assured; the plot grips, twists and turns with no longuers or missed beats; and the characterisations and voices feel immaculate. So this is a very well crafted novel - but it's also an extremely gripping one.
I don't want to say too much about the plot which would spoil this for other readers but Jensen does an excellent job of mixing up elements from a range of genres - crime, horror, sci-fi, domestic drama - to create something which is uniquely itself.
So this is very intelligent writing combined with a genuinely compelling plot - I finished this at a single sitting and was up till the small hours because I *had* to know what happened next. This is the first book of Jensen's that I've read but, on the back of this, I'll certainly be seeking out her back catalogue - highly recommended.
on 7 January 2013
What a strange book. Having kids control adults and make them commit sabotage is spooky. Having kids actually committing murder goes beyond that.
Our protagonist, Hesketh Lock, is as strange as the kids. His inability to understand human relationships (or to actually be a constructive part of a relationship) is offset by his ability to find patterns and trends in series of events. He constructs origami figures both literally and figuratively to isolate himself from other people. He constructs Venn diagrams to organize data and make connections between those events.
His one relationship is with the son, Freddy - actually the son of his ex. Freddy and Hesketh have some ability to communicate with each other. But, that could change.
The violence and accidents and deaths are somehow being caused by the younger members of society. How and why this is so is the thrust of the book.
This book is quite different from the normal fare and would appeal most to those who like new takes on old themes.
I found it to be disturbing but quite well written. I'll check into other books by Jensen.
(Disclosure: I received an Advance Readers Copy from the Amazon US Vine program.)
on 8 March 2014
The Uninvited by Liz Jenson
This book could have been written by Dean Koontz, or maybe James Herbert. Not having read Liz Jenson before I cannot comment on it in the context of her other books
The Uninvited is a kind of dystopian, kind of pre-apocalyptical, kind of sci-fi, part psychological thriller and very difficult to pin down to one genre.
Children suddenly turning into murderers, for no apparent reason, is not a new theme but it is always disturbing. As the number of incidents escalates, coinciding with an outbreak of gross acts of corporate sabotage followed by suicide, the norms and structures of modern life quickly break down, highlighting how feeble they really are, and all too credibly!
The central character, Hesketh Lock, works well. Asperger's syndrome governs his perspective, his ability to see patterns and his capacity for distancing himself and avoiding the superstitious responses that surface so very quickly when mere mortals are faced with dysfunctional society and things they cannot understand.
If you like all the i's dotted and the t's crossed you may find the ending a bit disappointing but I found this a thoroughly good read, thought provoking on several levels.
on 6 July 2012
Liz Jensen's latest offering, The Uninvited, is part thriller, part social commentary, with a bit of science and religion thrown in. I'm not normally in to science-y things but having been a fan of her previous works I decided to give it a go - and I am so glad that I did! I suspect Jensen has yet another hit on her hands. This is a more serious novel, in the vein of her last book, the Rapture, but it still has her natural sprinkling of comedy, particularly in the characterisation of Hesketh, who is the novel's brilliantly drawn protagonist, and it's through his eyes that we witness sinister and evil goings-on. All around the world, adults are suddenly and randomly committing acts of mass sabotage whilst children are engaging in shocking acts of violence, ultimately leading to the questioning and breakdown of everything as we know it. Even though the story was a bit scary (for me) in places, I was unable to put the book down and had to keep on going till the end. What's even scarier than the story is the very real notion that this new world Jensen describes as evolving might actually be on the cards for us in the future. The science managed to be both challenging yet easy to digest, with has echoes of Margaret Atwood for me. Jensen's characters are totally believable and get right under your skin, particularly Hesketh and his step-son Freddy.
I absolutely loved The Uninvited, and therefore I urge you to read it! I can't wait to read it again.