The Uninvited Guests

Written by Sadie Jones
Review by Doug Kemp

This is a bizarre and fantastic story, which takes place over 24 hours in Sterne – a substantial English country house. But the Swifts, the impoverished owners, are in danger of losing their beloved home. There is no definite indication of the time in which the story is set, but clues suggest it is in the years leading up to the First World War. While Edward Swift goes to Manchester to seek a financial arrangement to save the house, his rather eccentric family – his wife Charlotte and newly-acquired stepchildren – focuses on the 20th birthday of Emerald and the visitors to Sterne, who are to help celebrate the day. However, plans are thrown into confusion when there is an accident on the local branch railway line and the bedraggled survivors are sent to Sterne to rest until they can be collected by the rail company. However, it soon becomes apparent to the reader that all is not as it first seems. One of the uninvited guests invites himself into the birthday celebrations and is known to the mother, Charlotte, from her younger days in London. He instigates a thoroughly unpleasant party game in which some home truths are revealed. Henceforth, the night descends into a painful and supernatural farce.

This is very different from the author’s previous two novels, both of which I have read and enjoyed; these were serious affairs about human relationships. Although The Uninvited Guests covers the same themes, the mood is very different – a sort of nastily humorous version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Sadie Jones has an excellent and acute observant eye for the nuances of human behavior, and her powers of description are impressive, with the setting vividly presented and tale well narrated.