Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

It's Emerald Torrington's birthday and she's planning a lovely party for herself, her family, and some intimate friends, when nearby tragedy strikes: there's been a railway accident and Emerald's home, Sterne, must give shelter to a couple dozen of the third-class carriage survivors, as it's the closest country estate, and "needs must," as they say. Meanwhile, her one-armed stepfather has driven to town to try to save the estate, the neighboring tenant farmer may or may not be wooing her, her surly and spoiled brother has made an inappropriate friend, one of the maids has called in sick, and her younger sister is gripped with the urge to sketch her pony in charcoal on her nursery wall, in situ. What could possibly go awry?

This book started off with a bang: think Downton Abbey with an overlay of more overt humor, reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse.  Or, if you prefer your pop cultural references to take a more cinematic turn, the whole story reminded me much of the wayside travelers in the movie Clue, the ones who happen upon the great house seeking shelter from the dark & stormy night. Then things take a decidedly strange turn, and (spoiler alert--highlight the next line with your cursor to make it easily readable)   lo, it turns out that my instincts that screamed ZOMBIE! were not entirely off.  That's all I'm saying now, because nothing else I've read about the book prepared me for that aspect of it, and heaven forbid that I ruin things for another reader. 

It is funny, and it is bizarre, and by the time you come to the end, like any good English period drama, nobody is saying what they mean, much less acknowledging all of the things that went bump in the night.

Here's a fairly representative humourous scene from the beginning of the book, where Emerald's mother and the housekeeper are discussing one of their dinner guests. I'm sure you can guess which one is the self-serving and generally useless mother and which is the servant from the dialogue:

'Oh, I see. A scientist." This last was said in tones of dreary condemnation.
'With red hair.'
'Lord, yes. And a squint.'
'That's the fellow -- spectacles.'
'Hardly his fault.'
'You might say that, Florence, but although many may need them, only a certain type of person wears them. I prefer a passionate, squinting man than one who corrects his sight with wiry little spectacles and is in command of himself.'


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