Monday, March 19, 2012

The Uninvited Guests

Sadie Jones
The Uninvited Guests

Chatto & Windus, 2012

In the center of this tragicomedy is the Swift family. At the beginning of the XX century in a small village in England the Swift family owns an estate in the two houses, the New House and the Old House, as the owners call them. Widowed, three years after the death of her husband, Charlotte Torrington married a lawyer Edward Swift, one-handed, but a with good heart, a real gentleman who loves Charlotte, as she does him as well. The financial affairs of the family, however, are not so good, and to preserve the estate, Edward will have to take a large loan, and he is not sure he will get it. The older children of Charlotte, Emerald and Clovis, 19 and 20 years respectively, do not like his stepfather, but they see his love for their mother. The youngest daughter, Imogen, or Smudge, as everyone calls her, often dwells alone, forgotten by everybody. The mother loves her very much, but not always finds time to spend with her daughter. The girl grows a little bit strange.

All the events of the book actually take place in one day, and it is Emerald’s birthday. On the eve Swift goes to the city for apply for a loan, and the family slowly begins to prepare for the birthday. Emerald waits for the arrival of her guests: her girlfriend Patience Sutton and her brother Ernest, who should come out of the city, as well as a wealthy gentleman, John Buchanan, still unmarried, living nearby in his own estate.

While maids help the birthday girl to smarten up and cook, Clovis, who met brother and sister Sutton at the station, has returned with unexpected news: there has been a railway accident, the locomotive derailed, and dozens of people can not continue their journey. Luckily nobody has been hurt, but the security guard at the railway station has asked Clovis to accommodate all the people who were traveling by train to the Swift’s house. Servants start to bring up the victims.

And soon, people in small groups, mostly not rich, but rather poor, who were traveling in economy class, begin to fill the house.

It's really a very nice comedy with some tense scenes and a handful of fascinating characters, but, perhaps, it is nothing more. Sadie Jones harness for a long time. The first one hundred pages, even before the general assembly of guests,invited and uninvited, comes to a dinner, have stylistically all the flaws of the so-called serious prose. A rich family, but on the verge of bankruptcy, strained relations between children and step-father, marriage of convenience on a rich neighbor, a child with oddities. Taken from different places, these components are already fairly worn out to give them any significance. In addition, putting novel’s action in the early XX century, you have a risk becoming a pale shadow compared to the authors who wrote at the time. The second part, in fact, birthday itself, is livelier, with growing intrigue. And if the comic part of it is a success (the girl Smudge and her horse are worth much), the psychological one not quite. Charlotte’s past, risen to the surface, remains an unsolved problem. The children, initially stunned by story of the mysterious visitor, do not know how to behave now with their mother. But later they are together again, happy family, although this transition should not be so smooth. Jones, however, dismissed from the looming conflict: laughter, supposedly, solves all problems.

The book is not without a happy ending, but it is here on the right place. The tone of the novel sets up that everything will be fine. And indeed, a close-knit family will overcome all adversities, and you can’t tell your heart what to do.

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