The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones

It isn’t really the time of year to curl up with a truly spooky ghost story, and yet sometimes I do want something a little surreal and supernatural to escape into. Having heard various reports about Sadie Jones third novel ‘The Uninvited Guests’, and having kindly been sent a spare copy from Simon of Stuck in a Book a while back, I thought this would be just the kind of book for me at just the right moment.

Chatto and Windus, hardback, 2012, fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent by Simon T of Stuck-in-a-Book

In the country house of Sterne, somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester, it is the last day of April 1912; it is a big day for the Torrington family. Firstly it is Emerald’s, the middle child of the family, 20th Birthday and she is lost in the preparations of what she hopes will be her most fabulous birthday party yet. It is also an important day for the family as Edward, the head of the family, is off to Manchester on urgent business, business that could save the family. As day progresses into night there is an awful train crash nearby, the survivors of which are sent to Sterne filling the house with rather odd strangers, one in particular who will make himself especially well known to the whole family with some rather ulterior motives.

That is all I can say for the premise without giving anything away, well, apart from the fact that the youngest daughter of the household, Smudge (a rare delightfully precocious fictional child), has also seen this night as the perfect night for her ‘Great Undertaking’ which adds much humour to the novel, rather than the sinister possibilities the title conjures. Smudge was one of the characters that really made this book for me, even if the storyline was utterly farcical and it is the characters that set this book alight for the reader. Charlotte, who is rather at the crux of the story, is the mistress of the house and is utterly wonderful to watch as she starts gaily making merry of the day only to become more bitter and bitchy as the day goes on and on.

This is the other aspect of the book that I really admired. Nothing is initially what it appears. The Torrington’s themselves are not straight forward, Smudge is indeed the only child of Charlotte and Edward, Clovis (the only character I didn’t care much for) and Emerald being from Charlotte’s previous marriage and while Sterne initially seems a grand Edwardian estate it is in fact crumbling all around the edges, facades are slipping left right and centre and I don’t just mean with the house. Also with the mysterious stranger I started guessing just who he was from his arrival, changing my mind continuously and by the end having been proven wrong every time.

Sadie Jones also throws in a wonderful sense of humour to the book, occasionally dark and biting sometimes light and a little camp, yet the book never slips into a full blown farcical camp bit of nonsense which it could easily have done in the wrong hands.

I love ghost stories and I love books set in rather crumbling old houses. ‘The Uninvited Guests’ really does hit the spot on both levels. It isn’t a book that will have you shaking with fear, though there are some uneasy sinister parts to the book, but it might have you shaking with laughter at the barbed words between its characters and the situation as it gets more and more surreal. Like Julian Clary’s ‘Briefs Encountered’, which I read earlier this year, this is a ghostly book one set out to entertain rather than scare. I saw someone review another book very positively recently calling it an ‘entertainment’ and now I know just what they meant.

I haven’t read any of Sadie Jones other novels yet. I have heard that this is a very different novel to her previous ones though, I am intrigued. Have any of you read this or have you read, and would recommend, any of Sadie Jones’ other novels? I am rather keen to give them a whirl after this one.

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19 Comments

Filed under Chatto & Windus, Review, Sadie Jones

19 responses to “The Uninvited Guests – Sadie Jones

  1. David

    I’ve read all three of her novels and really rate her as an author. ‘The Outcast’ is still my favourite but this one comes close. ‘Small Wars’ is decent but unfortunately it came out at almost the same time as Stevie Davies’ ‘Into Suez’ which is very similar and much the better novel.
    I must say, when I first read the description of ‘The Uninvited Guests’ and saw the cover I thought it was going to be very light and insubstantial but it isn’t at all. The book it kept reminding me of was Dodie Smith’s wonderful ‘I Capture the Castle’ – plot-wise it is not at all similar of course, but something about the atmosphere of the house and the family put me in mind of it.
    I thought Jones handled the spookier elements beautifully. I can generally take or leave ghost stories – I liked the subtlety of ‘The Little Stranger’ for example, but thought ‘The Woman in Black’ was too overt and failed to deliver the frights it went out of is way to promise – but this one worked I thought. The only jarring moment for me involved the railway porter and a very sci-fi special effect where less would have been more.

    • I can understand the worry it might be light and unsubstantial as I feared it might verge into twee territory once or twice but it never happened, there was a sense of farce and camp but that was part of the fun of it all really.

      I think on your recommendation I will have to get a copy of both her other books, maybe reading ‘Small Wars’ first and leaving the best one until last.

      • David

        All her books are very different so if it was the slightly camp aspects of this you enjoyed, you might not like them all. ‘Small Wars’ is perhaps the most conventional of the three and feels like an author playing it safe with their second novel. It’s still good, but I found it disappointing after ‘The Outcast’ which is just so involving – it’s a rare novel that can get me so caught up in a character that I feel like I’ve been through the wringer with them!

      • It wasn’t the campness that I liked overall, while I may judge the Green Carnation Prize campness is not a quality I look for in a book unless appropriate ha, it just suited this style and novel. I liked her prose full stop so that is promising.

  2. I have read reviews of this before and didn’t fancy it but your review now makes it sound very appealing! I would recommend The Outcast, although it is the only one of her books I have read.

  3. I’m so pleased that you liked it, Simon, and your review makes me keen to pick up my own copy of it. Especially if it has a precocious child who is not annoying – you’re right, that’s incredibly rare! This sounds like my sort of spooky story (i.e. not too spooky) but I might still save it til the nights are drawing in a bit…

    • Simon, have you read the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley? If you haven’t then you must, if you have read the first one then you must read them all. Flavia is my favourite precocious child ever and the fact she is the amateur detective in these wonderful 1930’s murder mysteries (though written now) just makes them all the more wonderful.

  4. I liked The Uninvited Guest a lot – it hit the right note for me. I have heard that some people don’t like the ending, but for me it all fit together so I had no disconnect.

    • The endings of ghostly tales can be really tricky, almost as tricky as if the reader is ever revealed the ghost, if its not totally convincing you have lost the reader for good, this book didn’t loose me at all.

  5. Definitely read “The Outcast” – I really loved that book. I liked “Small Wars” as well but as David said it wasn’t as good as “The Outcast”. I’ve not read this one but definitely intend to!

  6. Thanks Simon for reviewing this book, because it sounds right up my alley! I can’t wait to read this one :)

  7. I enjoyed this one a lot, and also Small Wars, but The Outcast is one of my favourite novels ever, please do read it when you get chance, it’s really a wonderful book.

  8. I absolutely agree with David and all the others who rave about ‘The Outcast’. Sadie is an exceptional talent and it really comes through in her début. I also agree with TheBronteSister in that although her follow-ups have both been very good in places, neither are as consistent as her first book, in my opinion. ‘The Uninvited Guests’ as someone already mentioned is let down by the ending. I didn’t care for Smudge’s ‘Great Undertaking’ sub-plot either. I felt it interfered with the flow of the novel (I wasn’t such a fan of that character compared to your good self either).

    I’m not sure if you’ve managed to read either ‘The Outcast’ or ‘Small Wars’ yet. Once you’re exposed to enough Sadie you come to expect a lot more. When she delivers, she really delivers.

    *Shameless plug* Here’s my review of ‘The Uninvited Guests’ for anyone interested in an alternative take on it…

    http://www.tolitasmusings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/book-review-uninvited-guests-by-sadie.html

    Shalom x

  9. Oh and here’s a little pedantic aside… I don’t believe it’s implied anywhere in the novel that Smudge is Edward Swift’s daughter. He and Charlotte wouldn’t have been together long enough for that to be a possibility. Remember she marries him within two years of the death of her first husband which is why Emerald and particularly Clovis resent their stepfather so much…

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