The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

When Oliver Goldsmith and Oscar Wilde cleverly wrote plays about the upper crust, with comical attention to  their superficial lives, they used the farce as a vehicle for laughing at the rich, while exposing their callousness.  Sadie Jones, using this model, invites you to become her audience in her novel – The Uninvited Guests.  If you can persist through the slow initial descriptions of setting and characters, you will be rewarded with a wild story and a romantic commentary on what is really important in life.

Other critics have noted the Jane Austen-like tone of the novel, and Jones sustains this by dressing her characters in period costumes and setting the story in the early 1900s at an aging British mansion.  Emerald Torrington is celebrating her twentieth birthday with a party of invited guests who include a rich eligible bachelor, two old friends she has not seen since childhood, her brother and much younger sister, and her mother – the resident beauty of the house with a secret past.  Assorted dogs, cats, and horses are also in residence and play roles in the action – a pony stealing the show at one point during the stormy night.  The family fortune is in peril, and Elizabeth’s step-father had gone off to secure a loan to save the lifestyle to which they all have become accustomed.

Enter the uninvited guests: a group of third-class passengers from an overturned railcar accident seeks shelter at the house.  Of course, the birthday party must not be disturbed, and the weary travelers are shuffled into a small room to wait.  One man, however, a first-class passenger, insinuates himself into joining the festivities; his past connection to the lady of the house creates suspense as he eventually manages to expose her secrets as well as uncovering the true nature of each invited guest through a diabolical game.

Suddenly, the events turn, with strange unexpected paranormal intrusions.  But, Jones always keeps the reader as an observer of the self-indulgent characters – unlike novels that encourage the reader to relate to the characters.  The unlikely twists become  opportunities to expose the characters’ motivations.   Jones emphasizes her point by closing the book – not with “The End” but with the word “Curtain.”

Although I avoided this book on the shelf for some time, and initially could not immerse myself in it, when I did, I read it in a day – and now think back on some of the scenes with a smile.  Jan Stuart in the New York Times book review called The Uninvited Guest  a “…takedown 0f 1-percenter exceptionalism…{filmmaker} Luis Buñuel in cahoots with Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen.”

If you are looking for effective social satire with some romantic Downton Abbey period interludes, you might want to join the party.

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