Sadie Jones’ The Uninvited Guests is part family saga, part ghostly wasteland, part – well, who really knows? The acclaimed writer, who is well-known for her historical set-pieces scarred by the ugliness of emotion and the unsightly depths that lurk beneath each of us, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction for her first novel The Outcast. It was a promising narrative that grew just a bit unbelievable towards the end – which is, rather unsurprisingly, my exact assessment of The Uninvited Guests.
Set over a 24 hour time span, the novel follows Emerald on her twentieth birthday; she’s just found out that her beloved family manor will probably have to be sold and she still has to plan for an impending birthday dinner. But then, just as the guests are arriving, news comes of a shocking railway disaster nearby – and with it, a flock of bedraggled survivors who have come to seek refuge…
When I started reading, I wasn’t aware that The Uninvited Guests was a novel which relied heavily on magical realism. Like I mentioned in my recent review of The Snow Child, I’m not really a fan of the genre: too strange and inexplicable. But, as the novel progressed and I was increasingly spellbound by its utterly readable, engaging story, I didn’t really mind when elements of the implausible crept in. I was too hooked on the character dynamics at play; the occasionally overwritten, but undeniably beautiful prose. The way that the narrative both surprised and shocked me; made me feel distinctly uncomfortable and thoroughly entertained.
But the end, when it came, was just a bit too simple. All the menacing, lurking questions the novel had raised, so neatly packed away; everything that had made The Uninvited Guests interesting and engrossing simply washed away in the light of the fictional morning. Where was the angst, the disruption, the difficult reconciliations? (And a lot of needless pages wasted on the literal descent of a horse…) Although a rich and absorbing read – and a very speedy one too – Sadie Jones’ second novel just misses the mark.
Have you read The Uninvited Guests? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! ❤