The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

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The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It was to be a supper party but descended into chaos. Darkly funny with an underlying menace this is a surprising, but not unwelcome, departure for Jones. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 978-0701186715

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On a spring evening in 1912 preparations were being made for a supper party to celebrate the twentieth birthday of Emerald Torrington. It was taking place at Sterne, the much-loved home of the family, although finances were uncertain and no one was quite sure how much longer they would be able to stay in the house. Emerald's mother had hopes that she would be able to marry Emerald off to John Buchanan, a local entrepreneur, but Emerald was far from convinced. Her step-father was in Manchester trying to raise the funds to keep the house going but Emerald and her brother Clovis, Patience Sutton and her brother Ernest along with Buchanan and the household staff prepared for what they hoped would be a delightful evening.

Then it all went dreadfully wrong.

On the railway branch line which passed quite close to Sterne there was a dreadful accident. It wasn't immediately clear whether or not there were fatalities but survivors were sent to Sterne with 'the Railway' promising that they would do something about them later. And shortly a group of dispirited travellers emerged from the mist and rain of a quite awful evening. But what was to be done with them? Were they to be fed? Given a drink? And just who were these people? Was the man who arrived just after them one of their number or there for some other reason? One thing was certain though - this man was definitely not a gentleman even though he made it his business to join the birthday party.

We've met Sadie Jones before. We loved The Outcast set in the nineteen fifities, as was Small Wars which took place in Cyprus. I'd almost begun to think of the fifties as being Jones' spiritual home and I'll confess that I began reading convinced that this was the fifties, but no - we're back before the First World War and in the year of the sinking of the Titanic. This is a very different side to Jones - gone is empathy with the common man or woman and in its place is a dark humour, a spookiness and cruelty. There's a degree of menace which I certainly wasn't expecting.

It's clever and the unruliness and chaos which develops in the house over the course of twenty-four hours masks the tight plotting. There's laugh-out-loud humour and poignancy, shocking cruelty and touching kindness. It's also one of those books which stick in the mind long after you've finished as you digest the implications of what has happened. Just don't expect to hear Family Favourites in the background.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

It's a different time and a different place but there a level of spookiness in The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler which might appeal to you.

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