Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests is a moving target. At first, it seems like a rather conventional Downton Abbey sort of comedy of manners. 1920’s, a British country house, the daughter’s eighteenth birthday, a threat of foreclosure, a smart–ass son, and a neurotic mother. Plus. the servants. Well, you can just imagine what they’re like.
Then comes the supposed nearby railway accident and an influx of stranded passengers. It’s raining like crazy, of course, What would we do without a storm? The family gamely attempts to carry on with the party, giving the refugees short shrift, but before long, things fall apart, and, as Yeats puts it, the center cannot hold.
Shortly, we’re not in anything like Downton Abbey at all. All manner of events and characters appear. There’s the fine-looking young man who mesmerizes, then terrorizes, everyone. There’s the little girl who sneaks her pony into her bedroom, the animal shedding droppings as he goes, so she can draw its portrait. There’s the older suitor who would like a romantic connection with the birthday girl. There are the guests devouring every bite of the party food and demanding more. With the young man suddenly orchestrating events, we readers are inexorably drawn into a supernatural semi-horror story that threatens to destroy not only said country house but the family as well.
How Jones manages this transformation is a clever piece–pieces, really–of literary legerdemain. I almost quit on the book early on because it seemed so full of cliche, but I’m glad I stuck it out for a couple of more chapters because not only is it not cliche, it is one of the most original narratives I’ve read in some time. Four stars out of five. A very high score for yours truly.