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.
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.