Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

Title: The Uninvited Guests
Author: Sadie Jones

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Edwardian / English Estate / Upstairs - Downstairs / Disaster / Domestic Horror)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (5/1/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooved like a loving thing.
Did I finish?: I inhaled this in one day!
One-sentence summary: One country estate, one prickly family, one birthday party, and one train disaster equals a night of revelation, drama, desire, heartache, ugliness and unexpected joy.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- it references a scene in the novel and captures the Edwardian feel just perfectly. (Also, the end papers are too cute for words, referencing a particular character -- perfect!)

I'm reminded of...: Djuna Barnes, E.M. Delafield, Stella Gibbons, Molly Keane, Ada Leverson

First line: Since her marriage to Edward Swift, three years after the sudden death of her first husband Horace Torrington, Charlotte had changed her position at the breakfast table in order to accommodate her new husband's needs: specifically, aiding him in the spreading of toast and cutting of meat, owing to his having suffered the loss of his left arm at the age of twenty-three in an unfortunate encounter with the narrow wheels of a speeding gig, out of which he had fallen on the driveway of his then home in County Wicklow.

Did... this book remind me of a variety of early 20th century authors I love?: YES. From the droll hilarity of E.M. Delafield and Stella Gibbons to the weirder and creepier edginess of Djuna Barnes, this seemingly simple story of one family was layered and rich and twisted.

Did... I literally gorge myself on this book?: YES. I couldn't stop quoting lines on Goodreads; the turn-of-phrase and language was just divine.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this book is a delight!

Why did I get this book?: I loved Jones' previous novel, Small Wars, and I'm a sucker for this genre and style of fiction.

Review: I loved this book. I loved Jones' writing style, her language, her use of words -- I literally was jubilant while reading, delighted by the multifaceted bounce of her narrative and dialogue. The text of this novel had personality, was a character in this story, and the tale it offered captured me from the first line.

Set in 1912 at Sterne, an isolated English country estate, the story focuses on one night with the Torrington family: Charlotte, a 50-ish beauty with a cold demeanor and a loving second marriage; her three children -- Clovis, dark and bitter, Emerald, sweet and loyal, and Smudge, young, imaginative, and often forgotten; her second husband, the one-armed Edward Swift; Florence Trieves, a housekeeping in mourning; and Emerald's birthday party guests. On the eve of her party, the Torrington's learn of a terrible train accident that requires them to house the Third Class passengers until the railway company can send them on their way, and that is when things really begin to unravel. These uninvited guests provoke the Torringtons and their invited guests in ways none anticipated, and an eventful night transforms into something horrific, frightening, and illuminating for all.

I've read reviews that said this family was so unlikeable it was impossible to enjoy the story; to me, the characters were quite flawed but so human, I felt rather tenderly toward them, even Charlotte (who I think is the most despicable, mostly for her treatment of her children). This is a family raised in Victorian mores and ideals, living in an Edwardian society of flashy beauty and changing values, formerly affluent but now dependent on the possibility of a loan to keep them afloat. When I closed the book, I could say I loved every single character in this novel -- every one. They were real, anchored solidly by Jones' marvelous turn-of-phrase (the dialogue! the descriptive passages!) and given flight by the ludicrous and chilling plot. There's a madcap pace to the end of the novel that strained credulity (and shockingly, it wasn't the supernatural elements!) but I loved it for pushing me past my expectations.

Part domestic drama, part class exploration, part spoof on English country life, The Uninvited Guests is a fascinating, creepy, and moving look at obligation, motivation, and loyalty. Gushingly recommended.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Uninvited Guests to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/1.

36 comments:

  1. Um, OBVS entering, because hey period piece with excellent language.

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    1. Truly excellent life choice, and one you won't regret. ZOMG, such a marvelous book. Normally I give away my books when I finish reading them but this one I'm keeping!

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  2. I've been trying to put off reading this so that I can take it on my vacation next month. I've already read the first chapter and I loved it, so it's a little difficult delaying gratification. Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much!

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    1. You are a stronger person than I! I couldn't put this book down -- I read it on my walk from the subway to the office, on the way back to the train after work, and alllllll night. SO GOOD!

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  3. I've seen mixed reviews of this book, so I'm so glad to see you loved it. I too loved Small Wars and can't wait to give this one a try. Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. I'm really shocked at the less-than-enthusiastic reviews -- I found this novel raced and was so fun, thought-provoking, and atmospheric! Looking forward to your thoughts if you get around to it!

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  4. I have been reading a lot about this book lately, and I am so intrigued! I love books that are spoofs, but also clever in their own right, so I think this would be an excellent pick for me. I am so glad that you found it amazing, and I loved your review. It was exciting and wonderful, and has made me very excited to try this one for myself!

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    1. This book was amazing -- I can't gush/swoon/flail enough. Can't wait to see what you think of it!

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  5. I am hoping to read this one soon, it sounds like I would really enjoy it. Glad to hear you liked to so much, it makes me want to get a copy ASAP!

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    1. Not to be bossy or anything, but you NEED to read this ASAP! ;)

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  6. And just when I thought I was getting my to-read list under control. ;) Would my Downton Abbey-smitten friends enjoy it, do you think?

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    1. Shan, again, I'd be lying if I tried to apologize! ;) I *think* Downton Abbey fans would like it -- it's a bit madcap and frenetic toward the end and I think that's not quite the feeling of DA but the Edwardian ambiance is certainly there! If you do get to this one (and you should!!), let me know what you think!

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  7. Audra, I am so glad to read your take on this book because it was one I had initially been very interested in, then set aside due to too many comments about unlikeable characters and coldness. I love this: "to me, the characters were quite flawed but so human, I felt rather tenderly toward them". When that happens to be it is transformative for the entire reading experience. Thank you for putting this book emphatically back on my TBB-list (no need to enter me into the draw).

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    1. Danielle -- Do, do, do pick this one up -- it was a delight. The language alone seduced me; then the characters. Gah, so delish.

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  8. Oh, this looks great! I'm excited to pick this book up!

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    1. Natalie -- you won't regret it!

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  9. Why! You really liked this one. I have it, but I have yet to start it. I hope I inhale it like you did as I am still trying to knock out my stack. Pow!

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  10. I'm not normally one for historical fiction, but your review is SO exuberant, I'm going to add it to my TBR list! I love books that I fly through like you did this one.

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    1. Belle -- it's a bit ... weird ... near the end, but I just loved it. It was so good. I hope you give it a try!

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  11. You make me want to drop everything and start this one right now!

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    1. Kathy -- I don't mean to add undue pressure but...this one is worth it!!! :)

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  12. Yay! Someone who loved this book as much as I did. I'm also amazed at the number of negative reviews it's received but I guess you can't please everyone.

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    1. I am *stunned* at the number of negative reviews -- I'm not sure what folks wanted but what I got was such a humorous, sad, playful novel. So.good.!

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  13. This sounds like a great book, and you inhaled it...that's enough recommendation for me.

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  14. Um...is it wrong that I want to own the book just for its gorgeous cover?

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    1. It is NEVER wrong to cover lust! The innards are as lovely as the outside, and the endpapers are smashing -- very clever and cute.

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  15. I'm very surprised the reviews for this novel seem to be mixed because everything about it appeals to me... including the cover!

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  16. Considering the current Downton Abbey craze, this book has great timing!

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  17. The comedy of manners theme reminds me of the Jeeves books which I totally and completely love. I can't wait to get my hands on this treat of a book!

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra.

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  18. I adored Sadie Jones' last novel and cannot believe I haven't made time to read this one yet! It sounds amazing. I will have to make time for it soon:-)

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  19. I'm sitting down to write my review now, and I still have no clue what to say about it.

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  20. I had second thoughts about this book, BUT I now I don't. Reserves at the library prove this thought too be true!!

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