Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Univited Guests by Sadie Jones


I am way behind on my historical fiction challenge, and since this is a book I think I've checked out from the library two or maybe three times and never had time to read, I thought it would be a fun break from from the classics I've been immersed in lately.  And of course, Downton Abbey is all over the blogosphere, even though I won't get to watch it on this side of the Atlantic until January.  So, a fairly short book about a country house party set in 1912 seemed like just the thing.

I thought this book would be like Downton Abbey, but as if Cora hadn't had any money to save the estate.  In one respect this is right, because the eldest daughter, Emerald, is the hope of the Torrington family -- if she can snare a wealthy husband, they'll be able to save the family home.  However, any resemblance to DA ends right there.  

I'll back up and give a better synopsis -- it's the weekend of Emerald Torrington's ninteenth birthday, but her stepfather is missing the party, since has to go off and try to borrow money to save the family's estate, Sterne.  It's to be a small party, just a couple of old friends, Patience Someone-or-Other, and her mother, and at the last minute, a handsome young landowner, John Buchanan, is given an invitation as well (since he has a LOT of money and is fond of Emerald).  It's a small shindig because the family can barely afford to pay for servants and coal, much less updating the house with electricity and modern plumbing.  

However, things begin to unravel.  Patience's mother begs off with influenza and sends her son Ernest instead, and meanwhile, a railway accident has sent dozens of survivors up to the estate with nowhere else to go until things are sorted out.  What started out as a quiet weekend party for six or seven people quickly spirals out of control, especially when one of the railway refugees turns out to be someone from  the family's past. 

This book had a lot of potential -- a historical book about a country house in England, one of my favorite settings, and some interesting and quirky characters.  Unfortunately, I thought the story itself began to spiral out of control.  I could spot some plot developments right away, and I thought the author got carried away with the quirkiness, bordering on absurdity.  One of my favorite blogs, Books as Food, described it as "Downton Abbey meets the Addams family," but to me the story just got silly, and towards the end I just started skimming pages to get through it.  And I thought the ending was just odd.

I still want to read more historicals this year -- I have quite a few on the TBR shelves and even though I've made barely any progress on my historicals challenge, I've nearly finished all the other so I might make of a go of it anyway. 

What about you, bloggers?  Read any good historical fiction lately?  Or is everyone sick of the Downton Abbey hype?  

31 comments:

  1. I saw this come through the library system and had it on hold for awhile, but I think I canceled the hold before I got the book. I didn't think I would end up liking it. Even though I've actually never seen Downton Abbey and have no idea what it's about.

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    1. It doesn't really strike me as your kind of book, but you never know. I don't remember a lot of historicals on your blog.

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  2. I've had the The Uninvited Guest on my to read list for a bit. I read "A Time In Between" this summer and enjoyed it. It is pre-WWII. Hope you are having a good week-end.

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    1. I'll have to look for A Time in Between. I really like that period between the wars. Thanks!

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  3. I didn't get too far into this one before giving up - and I had really expected to like it, based on the posts I'd read.

    I seem to be immune to Downton Abbey.

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    1. I kept hoping it would get better, but it didn't.

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  4. I enjoyed The Uninvited Guests, perhaps because it was very quirky and a lot different from what I normally read. My mom was 'meh' about it, though. :)

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    1. I think the author got carried away by the quirkiness. The ending really bothered me.

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  5. I think Audrey's description of "Downton Abbey meets the Addams family" sums it up perfectly! I'm glad to have read The Uninvited Guests, but it was quickly forgotten.

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    1. Yeah, I think I'll forget it pretty quickly. It was sort of a break from the dense classics I just finished, so it wasn't a total loss.

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  6. This appears to have been a common reaction to the book. It sounded so awesome and yet it doesn't seem to have been able to bring the story home.

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    1. I agree!! It starting out so promisingly and then it just sort of fell apart for me. I think there were too many different threads going on -- and I don't think the author was able to resolve all the storylines skillfully.

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  7. I am not sick of the Downton Abbey fad! I love the time period and like discovering new fiction (or forgotten fiction) from the era.
    I am reading Beautiful Lies by Clare Clark, a neo-Victorian, and it is quite good; however, I worry that like The Uninvited Guests it is going to flounder at the end. So many authors seem to struggle with the strong finish.

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    1. I'm always on the lookout for a good neo-Victorian! I hope you'll post a review when you finish it.

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    2. I definitely thought Beautiful Lies was better than The Uninvited Guests ... but I didn't fall in love with either of them. I'm just getting hard to please lately! :)

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    3. Oh, I meant to first say thank you for your kind words! :)

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  8. I loved this book! Yes, it got a bit... odd in the end but I actually enjoyed that. It's just a matter of taste, I think.

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    1. There are parts of the ending I didn't quite understand -- what happened to all the people from the train crash? I don't want to spoil it for anyone else. . . anyone know?

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    2. SPOILER ALERT ...


      (They crossed over once they were at peace.)

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  9. I am glad that I wasn't the only one who saw where it was going pretty early. Though I didn't dislike the book, I didn't love it either.

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    1. It just kind of spiraled into weirdness.

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  10. I did like this, and I particularly likes that Sadie Jones didn't take the obvious Downton-esque route, that she did something that wasn't obvious after her eaelier books and that it was quirky. But, like JoAnn, I found that it didn't stick and I'm more inclined to pick up the likes of Saki than go or think back to this one.

    I've not read too many historical novels this year but, if you haven't read it, I can recommend Wendy Wallace's The Painted Bridge. And, if you're open to non fiction. Sarah May's Inconvenient People, that I'm still in the middle of, is wonderful.

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    1. I need to read more Saki. I know there's a book about Clovis which I kept thinking about as I read Sadie Jones since Emerald's brother is named Clovis too. I wonder if it was an homage?

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  11. I haven't read this book, does Angela Thirkell count as historical fiction? I gave up on Downton Abbey, too predictable, too many cringe moments. LOL - but not in a good way! Too many adverts.

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    1. I haven't read Angela Thirkell yet. I know many people love her, doesn't she write books about Barchester? Still haven't finished the Trollope series yet.

      And luckily, we have no advertising during DA here, but we have to wait until January and watch it on Public Television.

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  12. You have to wonder if this book is a result of the success of Downton Abbey--publishers may be willing to accept more fiction set in 1910-1940 because everyone seems willing to obsess over that timeframe these days.

    It does sound like a good premise gone haywire.

    I'm bingeing on historical fiction these days. Since we're in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I'm reading John Jakes trilogy, starting with North and South, which is surprisingly good. I'm thinking about starting a book blogger challenge centered on reading all the best selling historical fiction from the 1970s and 1980s (Roots, Shogun, Centennial, etc.).

    I hate it when I find myself skimming...

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    1. I read a bunch of the John Jakes series in high school, also Roots which was pretty good. I also remember really liking The Thorne Birds. I've loved historicals since I was a kid and read The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

      And I got a pass to a screening of the new Lincoln movie for this Thursday! Score!

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  13. That's too bad when a book doesn't live up to its promise. Can you pick specific places that you think, if only the author hadn't added that, or that?
    Oh, I wanted to tell you about a new meme I started on Mondays in case you want to play along On Mondays, you’ll find My Dreaming of France meme

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  14. It's not a genre I'm very familiar with. Always wanted to read Forever Amber, though.

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  15. Hi I just stumbled across your blog and I see that we have similar reading tastes, so I am now your newest follower. I would love for you to stop by my blog and check it out. I really hope to see you there and happy reading!

    Kimberlee
    http://girllostinabook.blogspot.com

    PS: I wasn't too impressed with this book either. Glad to see other readers share my same views.

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  16. I liked this one, but it did take a little 'getting in to'. A departure from the authors other works too. I loved The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn, a WWI period read.

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