Date Published: May 1, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Book Summary: With some apprehension, the Torrington family is about to celebrate the twentieth birthday of Emerald, the second of three children. Their housekeeper, Florence, plans an elaborate dinner for the family and a few close friends. Charlotte and her children—the romantically handsome and callow Clovis; nine-year old Imogen, known as Smudge, who plots a “Great Undertaking” for the evening; and Emerald herself—are disconsolate at the thought of losing Sterne, their beloved family home.
Originally purchased by Horace Torrington, Charlotte’s first husband and the children’s father, Sterne has become too expensive for the financially strapped family to maintain. Since Horace’s death and Charlotte’s remarriage to Edward Swift, the house remains an important link to the past, a symbol of the family’s position that is intertwined with their sense of identity.
As Edward sets off for Manchester in hopes of obtaining a loan, the rest of the family begins preparing for the dinner party. An evening unlike any other awaits them. Little can the Torringtons imagine, that more than just a few intimate friends are about to arrive at Sterne . . .
My Thoughts: The Uninvited Guests opens with almost all of the Torrington Family at breakfast the morning of 20-year old Emerald’s birthday. Missing is the youngest, Imogen (Smudge) who is often overlooked, especially by her mother. The extremely upsetting issue of whether there is any possibility of saving their family home, Sterne, is being discussed. The family’s finances have been depleted and they’re no longer able to pay for the house. Charlotte, who has enjoyed being a member of the upper class, with a lifestyle that accords with this ’dignified status’, finds it incomprehensible she may no longer be in this position. Sterne is the only home the children have known. It was purchased by their recently deceased father and Charlotte’s husband, Horace Torrington, for his family. Sterne holds many wonderful memories for the family and it’s very difficult for Charlotte and the children to believe they may actually have to leave Sterne.
Edward Swift, Charlotte’s new husband and, hence, step-father to the three children, is also at breakfast. Edward plans to spend the day doing whatever possible to save Sterne for the sake of Charlotte and the children. This, and Edward’s kind, genial disposition, doesn’t help to endear him to Emerald or, especially, Clovis. They don’t like Edward, feel he “doesn’t fit in’ and Clovis, especially, makes his feelings clear in his attitude and behavior towards Edward. In one funny scene, Clovis growls at Edward in response to an innocent question. Edward, in his good-natured way, pays no mind to Clovis, who, therefore comes off looking like a sullen, spoiled child, much younger than his nineteen years.
Emerald didn’t behave much better towards Edward at breakfast, rudely ignoring him. Expecting that she was similarly spoiled and immature like Clovis, I was prepared to dislike Emerald. Fortunately, I was mistaken. When Emerald scolds Clovis at the end of breakfast for complaining bitterly because Edward asked him to walk his horse, I saw that, although she may not be a big fan of Edward, Emerald appreciates that he’s trying to help with Sterne and is mature enough to keep her feelings to herself.
I felt a lot of sympathy for Emerald because, on a day when she should be excited and happy, she’s distracted by troubling, sad thoughts of the father she loved and misses and of the very real possibility that the family will have to leave Sterne. This thought weighs heavily as Emerald recalls memories of the wonderful life she’s had with her family at Sterne and of the fact that they have no where to go if they must leave Sterne. Also on Emerald’s mind are the more immediate concerns of that evenings festivities. The house and food need to be prepared for her birthday dinner. Her friend Patience, with her mother, is arriving in the late afternoon and there’s much to do. In a brief, endearing scene that sheds much light on Emerald’s character and cemented her as my favorite, Emerald shakes off her melancholy thoughts, dismisses the dreams she once had for her future, scolds herself for talking to herself and sets about doing what needs to be done. The grown up Emerald is a practical, responsible young woman.
Sadie Jones’ wonderful writing embraced me from page one. She somehow manages to put a lot in each sentence without making them overly long or heavy. In fact, her writing is light and inviting with an undercurrent of amusement, flowing smoothly from one page to the next. I didn’t want to stop reading.
Ms. Jones also has the ability to create a real atmosphere through her use of words, descriptions and dialogue. As the story progressed and Emerald conferred with Florence, the housekeeper and cook about what needed to be done to prepare for the evening‘s festivities, assisted with the preparations and made time to take the horses out for a walk with Clovis, the atmosphere in the story lightened considerably from the melancholy mood of the morning. It happened so gradually that it only occurred to me as I laughed for the fourth or fifth time, over a funny incident or amusing comment, that what I first thought was going to be a rather somber story had become a comedic story of a dysfunctional English family. I also discovered Ms. Jones creative storytelling abilities were just beginning. There were many surprises and unexpected plot twists in the upcoming chapters of The Uninvited Guests.
The atmosphere of the story changes again shortly after Emerald’s guests arrive. The Torringtons and their guests aren’t able to sit down to the celebratory dinner, a feast prepared thanks to Florence. Florence, an intriguing character with a life story that made me gasp out loud, had to use her ingenuity and creativity to devise dishes for the dinner since the the family’s finances are so limited. Suddenly it seems ‘uninvited guests’ arrive to stay at Stern for a little while due to a train accident. This interruption to the evening is met with grimaces and unhappy comments, particularly from Charlotte. One final ‘uninvited guest’ appears alone at the front door a little bit later. Clovis invites this beguiling individual inside.
This male guest, who can turn on considerable charms when he wants to, has questionable manners and, beneath his jokes and jocularity, a dark, sinister air. Clovis doesn't notice the strangers dark, almost rude nature but the others do and the looks they give each other are very telling. Clovis, in fact, is quite taken with this stranger and, much to Emerald’s horror, which she hides with good British manners, invites him to dinner. Charlotte, in particular, is shocked and dismayed by this stranger's presence in her home and reacts somewhet peculiarly upon seeing him.. Charlotte is unable to hide how she feels, but when she finally recovers, her good manners prevail.
The Torringtons and their guests have no inkling as to what their night will be like and are quite unprepared for it. I was too! There air is thick with tension and suspense. The individuals around the dinner table and those in the kitchen have no idea what the night will bring. And the couldn’t figure it out if they tried. By the end of the night, Charlotte, Emerald, Clovis, Florence and their guests will know themselves and each other better than they ever thought possible. They will also be shocked by the behavior of all of them. The surprises don’t end there, either. The following when Edward returns they all have some difficulty recounting their experiences. What they do remember may be the greatest surprise of all!
The youngest Torrington, 9-year old Smudge, is left alone most of the time. She is lonely but usually cheerful, spending her time with the many animals around Sterne. During the course of the book, Smudge interacts with her family and attends Emerald's birthday celebration. But she also has her own plans for adventure, what she calls the 'great undertaking', in the midst of the 'uninvited guests' event. Smudge attends Emerald’s birthday dinner but, while everyone is preoccupied with the celebration, Smudge slips away for her 'great undertaking', knowing she won’t be noticed or missed. While everybody was preparing for the celebration, Smudge undertook the first part of her plan and wants to finish it during the dinner. The “great undertaking” is one of the funniest parts of this book and Smudge is a fantastic character.
I loved this book. I have no doubt by the end of the year it will still be one of my favorite books of 2012. Ms. Jones is a storytelling star and a creative genius. Her writing is beautiful, her primary characters are well-developed, wonderfully flawed and very real and even her secondary characters aren’t easily forgotten and the last quarter of The Uninvited Guests has a magical, dream-like quality to it that made me wonder what really happened. I recommend this book to everyone. It’s so worth reading!
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Uninvited Guests and to Harper Publishers for a copy of this book.