Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters and… you know the deal.
Publisher: Vintage (Random House)
First Published: 1st January 2012
Date Reviewed: 21st April 2013
It’s Emerald’s birthday, and as her step-father leaves to go to a meeting to discuss the family’s ability to keep their house, everyone is getting ready for the dinner party. Charlotte is in a whirl and not sure about her daughter’s friends, Clovis is being his usual self, and Smudge is unwell and thinking about the charcoal drawings on her wall. But an unexpected call from the railway changes everything, as the family find themselves having to make allowances for a crowd of people left waiting after a train accident. It’s a weird group of people, and it gets stranger still when an old acquaintance of Charlotte’s arrives as another passenger of the train.
The Uninvited Guests is a peculiar book that turns the notion of literary fiction on its head. Not at all what you’d expect from Jones, the book is somewhat of a parody, yet retains its literary feel throughout.
Jones’s writing is as good as it has been since her début. History is still the period of the day, The Uninvited Guests appearing to take place around the early twentieth century, but there is also a great amount of humour in the book. Either Jones has taken a chance or she wishes to show that literary fiction need not be so separate from genre fiction.
The action takes place over the course of 24 hours, with the majority of the book contained to the evening. A lot happens; it can be hard to remember it is still the same day. What fills the book and keeps it from ever being dull is the number of characters and their development. Apart from the ‘guests’, who are generally observed as a whole group rather than given time individually, the characters are all related in some way and each is distinctive – as detailed to some degree by the summary above. They all have their own stories and goals within the main one assigned to them as a unit, and this means that Jones switches back and forth between them when they’re separated. Jones’s usage of solo plots works here because of the nature of the characters, for example Charlotte is quite the snob and a bit lazy so she stays in her room, and Smudge is the oft-forgotten child and therefore spends a lot of time alone.
Owing to the period and the idea of the sudden burden of people, an aspect of the book lies in the family’s principles. The social status of the passengers compared to the family, the aims and aspirations of Charlotte, the wishes for a good birthday, and the general feeling of unwelcome arrivals, forms the basis of the book and is a big part of why it takes so long for the characters to work out what the reader knew all along (because in this book the reader is purposefully ahead of the game). It is a big part of the hilarity, too, and, somewhat uncomfortably, also the way Jones demonstrates neglect – for example the family literally forget little Smudge, which is what leads to her mishaps.
The dialogue is understandably steeped in its time and the writing is as good as Jones’s previous novels. The humour is both pure comedy and a sort of silliness. Sometimes Jones goes too far – as the book reaches its conclusion it could be said that the humour becomes a sort of private joke, rather over the top and unnecessary – and so it may shock readers who were thinking it might be more serious (despite the quotations and descriptions the book’s cover does not aptly indicate the nature of the contents). Thankfully the silliness resolves itself in the end – as much as possible given the plot.
Perhaps the best way to describe the book is to say that the characters would really like this to be character-driven, but Jones has decided that it is plot-driven. Indeed there is a constant push by the characters to forget the crowd of passengers and enjoy their evening.
There are lessons for the characters, and there is such development of them as to make you feel sorry to close the book, but really this story has no specific purpose. The Uninvited Guests is a novel that exists just because – it’s a laugh a minute but of no lasting value as literature. However that seems to be the point. As long as you’re okay with the idea of literary fiction being gatecrashed by paranormal dystopian stories – which is itself another possibility for the feelings of these ‘poor’ literary characters – and you’re willing to switch the angst-ridden beauty of Jones for frivolity, then you will likely love this book.
Jones’s latest – jolly good fun old chap.
May 27, 2013, 8:38 am
I tried to read this, but it didn’t suit my tastes. I don’t think I was in the mood for jolly good fun!
May 27, 2013, 10:13 am
This title has been on my audiobook wish list for so long… I really must find time for this bit of fun!
May 27, 2013, 11:23 am
On reading this post I’ve realised I read little to no literary fiction! I think that is perhaps to do with the hype and awards that surround them. Too much fuss often puts me off I think. While I think I read a lot of genre books. Perhaps this might be a good one for me with its elements of both.
May 27, 2013, 11:39 am
I’ve had this on my wishlist for so long but have held off from taking the plunge. You might have swayed me!
May 28, 2013, 2:47 pm
I really loved this book, and I agree about the characters, they wanted to carry the story but they didn’t get the chance completely. Still, I enjoyed this very much, very funny.
May 29, 2013, 12:03 am
I adored this one! so glad you enjoyed it too — was so twisted and delightful!
June 1, 2013, 7:18 pm
I do love a blending of genres, so “As long as you’re okay with the idea of literary fiction being gatecrashed by paranormal dystopian stories” sounds right up my alley! I recently bought The Outcasts at a used bookstore and am officially intrigued by this author.