June 28, 2012

Downtown Abbey meets The Addams Family

That’s what I told my sister last weekend when she asked me what I was reading. It was actually The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones, which had gone onto my reading list as soon as I saw that it was an Edwardian country house novel and not an overly serious one.

The story takes place at Sterne, where the (relatively) New House connects to the decrepit, uninhabited Old House. Horace Torrington bought the house and the land around it because it was the kind of house his family should live in, and it is now occupied by his widow, Charlotte; her second husband, dull, sandy, one-armed Edward; Charlotte’s grown children, Emerald and Clovis, her largely-ignored younger daughter, Imogen (known as Smudge), and Mrs. Trieves, the housekeeper, who is an old friend (or has some kind of long-standing connection) to Charlotte. The family is in danger of losing the house, and when the story opens, Edward is leaving to solicit a loan from an unsavory industrialist and the others are preparing for a weekend party to celebrate Emerald’s birthday. Charlotte has invited Emerald’s childhood friend, Patience, and her mother in hopes of reinforcing the family’s social standing (and matchmaking for Clovis), and she is annoyed when Mrs. Sutton pleads illness and sends her unfortunately-spectacled son Ernest instead. She also invites John Buchanan, who has saved the family once before by buying the farm attached to the property. Smudge thinks he is ‘stale as a bun,’ but he might do for Emerald.

Before the dinner party begins, though, word comes of a train accident nearby, and the Railroad calls on the family to house some of the survivors. When they arrive, in droves and fretful, one man, in a top hat and a ruby-red waistcoat, befriends Clovis and insinuates himself into the family party. When the stranger draws the dinner guests into a game of hunting and hounding, things become a little darker, and then...{even saying that there’s a plot twist gives something away, but it’s a good one, and as it turns out there’s an enormous clue about it in, or maybe on, the book that I missed completely}.

The characters and the writing are quirky and fun, and I liked the first half or two-thirds of The Uninvited Guests very much, though I think I agree with my blogging friend JoAnn {and others} that it started off more strongly than it ended. I sometimes find myself growing impatient with quirky and fun when there’s too much of it, or when it’s just drawn out, and that’s true here. For a lazy summer weekend, and a few quick snatches of reading on the T, though, it was just what I needed.


JoAnn said...

Downton Abbey meets The Addams Family? I LOVE it!! And I agree with your assessment - it was definitely fun for a lazy summer weekend. In the grand scheme of things though, I think it will soon be forgotten.

A Bookish Space said...

You have me sold by Downton Abbey meets the Addams Family :o)

Nan said...

I could've sworn I left a comment here. I must have just thought really hard about it. :<) Anyhow, am reading the book right now, so will come back after I finish to read this in a more serious way.