Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Party Crashers

While the Torrington-Swift family was in the midst of preparing for the daughter, Emerald's, birthday party, they got quite a shock.  There had been a train crash on a branch line near their isolated old mansion in the English countryside, and the survivors were walking to the family home for shelter.   Thus the title of Sadie Jones' novel, The Uninvited Guests.

There is one uninvited guest who stands out from the others, and who works to ingratiate himself with his hosts.  This survivor, Charlie Traversham-Beechers, seems to have some relationship with Emerald's mother, Charlotte, which Charlotte is not eager to explain.  As time goes on, the Torrington-Swifts begin to think that there is something strange and a little frightening about the uninvited guests, and Charlie Traversham-Beechers in particular.

The Uninvited Guests is a ghost story, set in a crumbling estate in 1912.  The Torrington-Swifts are in danger of losing the home, and can no longer afford to heat a whole wing of it.  There are three children in the family, Clovis, Emerald and Imogene, who is more often referred to as "Smudge".  The guests who are actually invited to the party include Emerald's friend, Patience, Patience's suddenly handsome brother, Ernest, and a wealthy neighbor who seems to be interested in Emerald, John.

When I first read of the train crash on the local line, and the passengers needing a place to stay, I thought of Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, where the travelers found shelter in the Lake of the Coheeries when their train broke down.  In The Uninvited Guests, Jones worked to create the mystical, other worldly feel of  Winter's Tale, but the story was going in so many directions, that it didn't really work.  Why the kitten?  Why the pony?  Why the paternity question? Why, while we are at it, did we need an unused wing of the house?

If you are interested in reading a ghost story set in an old mansion, I would recommend that you try The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters or Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  If you read and loved all of those and still want more, then give The Uninvited Guests a try.

Next Up:  The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

Still Listening to:  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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