on 1 September 2013
I was really looking forward to reading this book, but it was such a disappointment. I just didn't get the point of it at all.
I have to admit I had to finish it because I hate not finishing a book, and wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, to see if it actually got any better. However, it did not. I did not care for any of the characters, and there was definitely no tension whatsoever. I'm just astounded this ever got published. There was no proper plot, and the majority of it was ridiculous and predictable. Very, very disappointing. I wish I hadn't wasted my money!
on 16 September 2013
Downton Abbey its not. Forget about ghastly stereotypes and predictable "spot it coming a mile off" plot lines. This is a really clever, imaginative and totally gripping story about an Edwardian country house full of people in crisis in different and surprising ways. Parts are deliberately creepy but not in an obvious or explicit way - its subtle and pleasantly surprising. Other parts are very funny. One of the newpaper reviews said it was a "Midsummer Night's Dream of a story" and that its actually a wonderful description. Its not too heavy going at all - I got enthralled about half way through and had to read the whole second half one evening, which I did easily. I loved it. As long as you are not expecting a period drama with "lovely frocks" then you probably will too!
on 17 October 2014
This is a bizarre and fantastic story, which takes place over 24 hours in Sterne – a substantial English country house. But the Swifts, the impoverished owners, are in danger of losing its beloved home. There is no definite indication of the time in which the story is set, but clues suggest it is in the years leading up to the First World War. While Edward Swift goes to Manchester to seek a financial arrangement to save the house, his rather eccentric family – his wife Charlotte and newly-acquired stepchildren focus on the 20th birthday of Emerald and the visitors to Sterne who are to help celebrate the day. However, plans are thrown into confusion when there is an accident on the local branch railway line and the bedraggled survivors are sent to Sterne to rest until they can be collected by the rail company. However, it soon becomes apparent to the reader that all is not as it first seems. One of the uninvited guests invites himself into the birthday celebrations and is known to the mother, Charlotte, from her younger days in London. He instigates a thoroughly unpleasant party game in which some home truths are revealed. Henceforth, the night descends into a painful and supernatural farce.
This is very different from the author’s previous two novels, both of which I have read and enjoyed; these were serious affairs about human relationships. Although The Uninvited Guests covers the same themes, the mood is very different – a sort of nastily humorous version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Sadie Jones has an excellent and acute observant eye for the nuances of human behaviour and her powers of description are impressive, with the setting vividly presented and tale well narrated.
I've been led to gather from other reviews of this book that The Uninvited Guests is very unlike Sadie Jones' other work, including the bestselling Richard And Judy Book Club favourite The Outcast. I couldn't tell you whether I agree because The Uninvited Guests was the first novel by Jones that I've read, but if this is different from her norm, then I'm almost disappointed, as I thoroughly enjoyed it and would actually love to read more in a similar vein.
Set entirely within the confines of Sterne, an Edwardian country home gradually falling into disrepair, The Uninvited Guests reads like a strange cross between I Capture The Castle, Noel Coward's Hay Fever and An Inspector Calls with a smattering of modern-Gothic thrown in.
I must confess that it didn't quite grab me at first. The story begins with Edward Swift, the second husband of flighty matriarch Charlotte and stepfather to Clovis, Emerald and Smudge, leaving Sterne for Manchester to attempt to secure a large loan to enable the family to remain in their crumbling money-pit of an estate. In Edward's absence, Emerald is to hold a dinner party in honour of her birthday, inviting local nouveau riche farmer John Buchanan and her best childhood friends, bluestocking Patience Sutton and her amiable brother Ernest.
So far, so ordinary. The characters are slightly offbeat, the humour is gentle but fun, and the set-up fairly standard: a formerly well-off upper class family falling on financial hard times and struggling to keep an enormous house running is a relatively common premise. With the planning of the dinner party and the suggestion of a comic romance sub-plot in which Emerald is pushed into the arms of John Buchanan and his new money, one could easily be forgiven for imagining that The Uninvited Guests would develop into a witty but insubstantial comedy of manners.
But then the arrival of Patience and Ernest happens to coincide with a serious railway accident, and Sterne is commandeered by the mysterious Railway as a holding-pen for the shocked, stranded passengers. Herded into Sterne's morning room and literally shut away by the Torrington Swifts, they are confused, hollow-eyed and grey-faced, and the longer they remain, the more intrusive and chilling their presence becomes. And when one of their number, wolfish cad Charlie Traversham-Beechers - the only passenger who claims he was travelling in First Class - insinuates himself into Emerald's dinner party, events take an even more sinister turn.
The Uninvited Guests is full of social awkwardness and brittle, slightly dysfunctional relationships that provide much of the wit and humour of the novel, yet are also touching and frequently sad. Smudge, the youngest Torrington, is dismissed with something approaching outright neglect, particularly by her mother, and there is an element of tragicomedy in her lonely 'Great Undertaking to bring her pony into her bedroom to trace her portrait on the bedroom wall. Charlotte Torrington Swift herself, desperately attached to the importance of keeping up appearances, is a self-centred drama queen, but the more we learn of her, the more we realise that she has more reason than most to want to cling to a façade of well-to-do respectability. Brisk, practical Emerald has abandoned her plans to study science while caring for her terminally ill father and is now being pushed into looking for a suitably well-off husband, and Clovis, slightly boorish and irresponsible, seems unsure of how to grow up, unable to forge a masculine role for himself in the family after his mother's second marriage. Their insecurities, long swept under Sterne's threadbare carpets, are exposed - sometimes gradually, sometimes brutally - by Charlie, by each other and by the sheer strangeness of the situation as the increasingly demanding railway passengers become impossible to ignore.
Like another favourite novel of mine, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger (also deeply creepy, and also set in a shabby country manor in the early 20th century) The Uninvited Guests is not just a ghost story of sorts, but also a novel about the decline of the English upper classes. Just like the singularly unpleasant bunch in An Inspector Calls, the Torrington Swifts find themselves forced to put aside their own problems and confront the working-class horde that is, quite literally, invading their home, clamouring for warmth and sustenance, despite the family's initial efforts to continue a lavish five-course dinner party and ignore their impromptu visitors - and the solution the Torrington Swifts find to the problem of the visitors is, in itself, surely symbolic. Moreover, it seems no accident that the book is set just two years before the First World War, an event that shattered Edwardian Britain and destroyed its innocence with brutality, shellshock and the loss of a generation.
Some reader reviews of The Uninvited Guests have criticised the style Sadie Jones has adopted for this book, which is apparently different from her usual prose and which is indeed unusually verbose for a modern novel. However, it's pretty clear that Jones has made a deliberate decision to write in the style of the period in which the novel is set - and for me, it works beautifully, giving the novel a perfect sense of time and place without ever descending into parody, and its effectiveness reminded me of Michel Faber's use of a Victorian-influenced style to root his novel The Crimson Petal and the White firmly in the 1870s.
The Uninvited Guests doesn't necessarily answer every question you might ask of it - at least, not explicitly - but it's an engaging and rewarding read, cleverly executed and striking a remarkable balance between comedy and pervasive, symbolic horror. Jones has taken the brave decision of making her characters largely unlikeable at the outset, but you won't regret sticking with them. By the time the novel reaches its conclusion, I, for one, didn't want to leave them behind.
on 4 July 2015
Horace Torrington, once owner of an 18th century manor house called Sterne, is dead and his widow Charlotte and their children now occupy the house. Charlotte, much to the chagrin of her children, has now married Edward Swift who, as the story opens, is departing the estate in hopes of acquiring a loan to save the family manor.
Set in England in 1912 the Torrington-Swift family is preparing to celebrate the 20th birthday of middle daughter Emerald. Even though the family is in dire need of funds and obviously living far beyond their means, an over the top celebration has been orchestrated with family and friends invited to the festivities. Plans go awry when a train accident occurs nearby and some of the individuals involved, most of whom were “third-class” travelers, arrive at the estate seeking assistance and disrupting the flavor of Emerald’s special evening. Among the uninvited guests is Charlie Traversham-Beechers, a malevolent character from Charlotte’s rather questionable past who shows up claiming to be a survivor from first class.
An ensuing storm, uncooperative guests and an unusual parlor game add tension and threaten the evening in this tome that takes extreme delight in dissecting the pretension and stagnant social mores prevalent in Edwardian England.
While Sadie Jones writing is descriptive and delves into the minutia of everything from the servants to the preparation of the dinner being served, it is also much in keeping with the behavior of the residents of Sterne and overall tone of the story – stuffy.
This book advertises itself well; however reviews do seem to be mixed. I approached it as a tale of Edwardian manners and mannerisms, but did not really know what to expect beyond that. At first, it seems like one of those pleasing books which leave you thinking afterwards - a book where the reader drifts into lives that have been and will be ongoing once the reader has drifted out again. But then there do seem to be `great events' afoot, so you think maybe it's not that kind of book - the man of the house is off on a journey to save the family fortune, the remainder of the family are gearing up for an auspicious birthday party with guests. And then there appears to be an accident on a local railway line, bringing the heralded "uninvited" guests, those whose journeys have been disrupted by said accident. By this time, I was wondering where on earth the story was even headed? The lack of attention given to people shocked and wounded on a train derailment seemed very strange; where we now heading in some sort of different direction in the book?
The writing varies; the characters seem to be inconsistent in their characterisations, but the author is clearly careful in her use of the English language and attempting to write in an appropriate tone, even for the character's `internal voices'. Having said that, by page 66, the author had used "solipsistic" twice - not exactly part of anybody's everyday vocabulary, I wouldn't have thought, even in Edwardian times.
I thought, as I finished the book, that it had started off as one thing, turned into another half way through, and towards the end the author didn't quite know how to finish it off; it all seemed rather contrived at the end - uncertain, not quite complete in its resolutions. Overall, while a good attempt at a witty, Edwardian tale this book ends up as a bit of a hit and miss result. I suspect partly the book is, sadly, a victim of its own advertising - wherever you look, you see this book lauded as the "next big thing" - unfortunately, it takes a lot to live up to that even with the best of intentions. Or possibly it just tries too hard to be too clever? Either way, the writing is not bad, and the premise is not a bad one; I just felt it could have been delivered as a better book.
on 5 May 2012
I came to this novel with an open mind expecting a quirky tale and a glimpse into the curious life of " the others" (as my hubby likes to refer to the upper classes)Well, it was certainly quirky and different and, I concluded as I struggled towards the end, tediously boring. I understand the premise behind the tale but for me, had it displayed some humour( which the situations these odd people found themselves in certainly conjoured up all sorts of daft senarios in my head) then possibly I would have found the journey more tollerable. As it stands it fell flat for me and quite frankly, I was so glad to reach the final page. If you are looking for a little satyr with a laugh at the antics of the beautiful people, then opt for Charlotte Bingham's quartet begining with Belgravia...now they are really worth a read.
on 30 June 2013
Not sure what I was expecting but it wasn't this. I am not sure how to describe 'The Uninvited Guests'. If I say it's a ghost story, I think that should mean it's scary and it isn't, but I can't describe it as a comedy although it is very amusing. Jones has described the characters so as to give me a perfect portrait of each. I would even be able to recognise the pony from her peers! This is different to the author's previous writings any I needed a little time to adjust - I even thought for a while that I might not like it, but I was wrong. It is a little gem and I look forward to reading a lot more from Sadie Jones.
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.
on 22 May 2013
I would normally not write a review of a book I never finished, but this was dreadful and I would want to deter anyone else from wasting money on it. The story is set in 1912 in a crumbling mansion called Sterne which the family is likely to lose because of debt. It is the birthday of the elder daughter and a somewhat miserable celebration is being planned. The younger daughter may or may not be a ghost. A railway accident happens nearby - the rescued turn up at Sterne, they too may or may not be ghosts. Then a stranger turns up - he too, well you can guess the rest. The characters are like cartoons drawn by a teenager who has been reading Oscar Wilde, the dialogue also. By 35% of the novel I still couldn't see a plot and I looked at the Amazon reviews which confirmed what I was thinking. I abandoned it. Sadie Jones first two novels were good, especially Small Wars. But what exactly is this?