Emerald Torrington didn't plan anything special for her 20th birthday. With her stepfather away on family business, it was just to be her siblings, her mother and an old friend. But a gift from a suitor, an unexpected reunion, a pony in the house, and a terrible train wreck destroy Emerald's careful plans and create a night of havoc, horror, revealed secrets and romance in Sadie Jones' latest novel, THE UNINVITED GUESTS.
"THE UNINVITED GUESTS is a fun reimagining of Edwardian-era comedies of manners. Jones plays with social class and conventions and builds to a great scandal.... an ambitious and enjoyable read."
The Torrington clan is anything but ordinary. Oldest son Clovis is handsome and shallow, but also tenderhearted and loyal. Nine-year-old Imogen, known to all as Smudge, is often left alone and almost forgotten at Sterne, the large estate in which the family resides. Birthday girl Emerald is as beautiful and brilliant as her name, but after her father's death a few years ago, she put away her dreams of becoming a scientist. Matriarch Charlotte is stunning, but also snobby and cold-hearted.
The family is already distressed at the thought of losing their beloved house due to finances when the night's dinner party plans begin to unravel. First, John Buchanan, the wealthy man to whom they've sold some of their acreage, brings Emerald a birthday gift but then professes not to love her. Confused by his attention, coupled with his avowal of affection, Emerald finds herself inviting him to dinner. Next, her childhood friend Patience Sutton arrives, not with her mother as chaperone but with her older brother, Ernest, who has changed quite a bit since Emerald last saw him.
Most distressing of all is the arrival of a group of traumatized passengers whose train has wrecked nearby. As Sterne is the closest house, they are brought there to wait for their journey to continue. As the night wears on and the railway never comes to retrieve them, they grow hungry and restless and begin to wander throughout the house, their numbers seeming to increase. One last stranded passenger appears, Charlie Traversham-Beechers, and it is with his arrival that all hell breaks loose in Sterne.
Traversham-Beechers instigates bad behavior all around, though he does seem to have a calming effect on the increasingly anxious train passengers. From impolite comments to poor manners, from an alarming familiarity to a dangerous parlor game, Emerald and the others have no idea what to make of him, but Charlotte seems the most distressed by his presence in the house. And while little Smudge is upstairs, having smuggled a horse into her room and strange things begin to become apparent about the train passengers, Traversham-Beechers reveals his connection to the family and threatens to dismantle any semblance of decorum left in the party and annihilate the Torrington family.
THE UNINVITED GUESTS is a fun reimagining of Edwardian-era comedies of manners. Jones plays with social class and conventions and builds to a great scandal. The dialogue is sharp and fairly true to the period and place; though the characters are almost stock, they are all eccentric and complex enough to avoid being overt or dull types. The novel begins slowly, but Jones finds her rhythm as she writes and as the tensions --- physical, emotional, sexual and familial --- build.
In the end, she tries to cram in one more big (but not very surprising by that point) reveal, and it almost threatens the structure and success of the book. But ultimately it works because of the fine writing and characterizations of the Torringtons and their guests. Class distinctions fall away, prejudices are challenged, and the dinner guests come to realize that the train passengers are in major need of more than just a cup of tea. THE UNINVITED GUESTS is an ambitious and enjoyable read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 25, 2012