The Uninvited Guests

uninvited guestsTeresa read this novel by Sadie Jones a year and a half ago, and I’ve had it on my radar ever since. When I saw it on my library shelf, I picked it up to read. But despite Teresa’s excellent review (which you should click through and read as a refresher, because I’m not going to re-summarize the plot), I wasn’t prepared for the way this book thrashed about, turning from one thing into another.

It’s actually a common feature of “strange stories” (a phrase beloved by Robert Aickman, master of the genre) that they begin by not looking strange at all. So I’m not complaining about the notion that something supernatural might have a beginning that didn’t foreshadow such an eventuality. Instead, I’m complaining that this felt like two, or possibly three — or, wait, maybe even four — different sorts of stories stuck together almost at random, with the junctions so hastily papered over that it was difficult to find time to care about the characters, and an unearned happily-ever-after ending. There was a light and predictable romance. There was an exceptionally nasty and bitter drawing-room farce (even Evelyn Waugh never went quite this far — maybe Edward Albee?) There was a gee-Miss-Smith-you’re-beautiful-when-you-take-off-your-glasses scene. There was a child-in-distress plot, complete with pony, which wavered between unpleasant and hilarious. There was the family-home-in-danger plot. And there was the supernatural bit, sort of floating (hah!) through it all.

What, pray, was Jones doing with this frittata of a novel? There were some good bits, and there were some tedious bits, and there were some execrable bits, and it was impossible to say which bit was coming up next. After the halfway point, I wound up skimming a lot, looking for the good bits, and I don’t know that I was entirely successful; a book that felt this disjointed is hard to read by skimming, and I may in fact have helped myself feel that it was disjointed.

Oh well. You can’t win them all. And mark the calendar, ladies and gentlemen: this — this! — is the first book in many years that Teresa and I have disagreed about! Will it be a duel to the death? Will I have to send her flowers to apologize? (Or possibly books?) Tune in for the next episode…

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9 Responses to The Uninvited Guests

  1. I also came across this on a library shelf. I didn’t quite make it to the end though – gave up on it about 100 pages in! After reading you review, it’s unlikely I’ll be rushing back to grab it off the library shelves again…

  2. Teresa says:

    Ha! It had to happen sometime, although I don’t think there’s such a huge gap between sort of liked and mostly hated. I’d probably rate it three stars, or thumb slightly up. It was too much of a hodge-podge–she was trying to spin one too many plates, I think. I liked most of the various bits, but agree that they weren’t stitched together as well as they could be. (I think skimming probably made what attempts at stitching it together there were even harder to spot. I only caught some of what she was doing when I went back and reread parts of it.) For me, the good parts slightly outweighed the bad, as some of the good parts were really entertaining.

    So I wouldn’t call this a major disagreement. Giving up on one of my favorite novels by my favorite novelist, on the other hand … ;)

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, no fair! I gave up on Tess years and years ago, long before you convinced me about Hardy, maybe even in high school. I will definitely read it again! And you’re right — if you’d give this three stars, I’d probably give it two. There were some neat tricks here, I just didn’t think it ever came together.

  3. Jeanne says:

    I was unsettled by this “frittata of a novel” (ha, good phrase) at first, but in the end I found it hilarious. Which explains how people who often agree about books can disagree about this one–humor is so subjective.

  4. Karen K. says:

    I thought it was an enormous needle scratch — it started out so well, then it just got weirder and weirder, and I still don’t understand the ending. A disappointment.

    • Jenny says:

      I understood the ending (I think) but I thought it was unearned. How did this group of passive-aggressive, unlikeable, unpleasant people get a happy ending? Phooey.

  5. Christy says:

    Like Jeanne, I just had to comment and say that “frittata of a novel” is an excellent turn of phrase. I had this on my to-read shelf on Goodreads because of Teresa’s review, but now reading your review and her comment above, I think I will take it off.

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