It was the last day of April. Edward Swift is leaving for Manchester to try to save Sterne, the house that his wife Charlotte and her children Emerald and Clovis, aged 19 and 20, and young Imogen aka Smudge, adore:
“The children, too, feeling that they were at the end of a line, as children always do (for indeed, they are), loved Sterne as exhausted travellers with lifetimes of migration behind them might love their first and last home. Sterne was the mythology of their parents’ marriage, their father’s legacy, and it had given them the very best of their childhoods. Beyond that, it was beautiful, and the effect of it on their souls was inestimable; once found, they were all of them loath to give it up.”
It is Emerald’s birthday and a party has been planned. Her childhood friend Patience Sutton and her brother Ernest, their wealthy neighbour Johm Buchanan (whom Charlotte hopes to conjure up a romantic interest in Emerald) have been invited. Florence and Myrtle have been busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm.
So it seems all very Downton Abbey at the moment. Dinner party. Large ailing estate.
But aha! A train has gone off the tracks and the railway has asked the good residents of Sterne to help take in some of the travellers. Third-class passengers to be exact. And as Charlotte has “built her life so that she might avoid third-class train carriages and she wasn’t going to wring her hands over those who made use of them now”, they get stuffed away into an unused room and pretty much ignored.
Somehow a mysterious straggler from the train, an upper-class sort, joins the dinner party. It turns out that he knows Charlotte from a long time ago. He initiates a rather bullying sort of parlour game and things just get odder and odder from there.
This story wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It takes some time to build and I only warmed up to the family when they decide to pitch in and help Florence and Myrtle feed the survivors. It must have been a rather comical sight, these partygoers in their evening clothes putting on aprons and making this lavish birthday feast feed many more than it was intended to feed.
“Florence’s keen blade found the slippery joints in the Poulet a la Marengo, the tender baby flesh of the veal roll. Still they were unsatisfied. The kitchen resembled a deserted field-hospital at the Crimea after the battle has moved on: bones with shreds of flesh clinging, wet cloths, stained, scraped boards and instruments flung down, as the hoards moved on to demolish the next thing – dessert.”
Then it becomes quite the riot from there. Jones layers in the class issues, family relationships, emotional tensions into a little whirlwind that erupts into one big reveal. It is a comedy of manners, a Gothic ghost story, really, it’s a mix-up of different genres, but overall an entertaining, clever little book. It is not for everyone, but if you set aside any expectations and are open to something a little different, The Uninvited Guests might be rather inviting after all.
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour:
Monday, January 21st: Conceptual Reception
Tuesday, January 22nd: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, January 23rd: Olduvai Reads
Thursday, January 24th: Oh! Paper Pages
Monday, January 28th: nomadreader
Tuesday, January 29th: Bibliosue
Wednesday, January 30th: Excellent Library
Thursday, January 31st: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, February 4th: Speaking of Books
Tuesday, February 5th: Giraffe Days
Friday, February 8th: Peppermint PhD
Monday, February 11th: All Grown Up?
Friday, February 15th: Silver’s Reviews