On the occasion of Emerald Torrington’s 20th birthday, a dinner party is being held at her family’s manor house, Sterne, located in the English countryside. Over the course of a 24 hour period, a strange series of events occurs, which changes both the members of Emerald’s family and their guests in ways they never would have imagined.
The Uninvited Guests, which takes place in 1912, begins with Charlotte Swift (formerly Torrington) preparing for her second husband’s trip to request money from a gentleman he despises, in order to save Sterne, which they are in danger of losing due to Charlotte’s late husband’s debts. Charlotte’s two eldest children, Emerald and her brother Clovis, are distraught at the thought of losing their childhood home, while Imogen, aka Smudge, is holed up in her room. While awaiting their guests, Emerald’s childhood friend Patience and her brother Edmund, the Torringtons are informed of a dreadful train accident and told they’ll need to put up some of the passengers until the railway can collect them.
The Torringtons and their invited guests attempt to continue with their party, while the third class passengers are shuttled into various rooms and ignored, until they start wandering the halls in search of sustenance, having only been given tea upon their arrival. The servants are overwhelmed, the railway cannot be reached, and the arrival of another passenger, one Charlie Traversham-Beechers, throws Charlotte for a loop. Meanwhile, Smudge has embarked on her Great Undertaking, involving her pony and a situation that quickly gets out of control.
The Uninvited Guests is an unusual story set in the period of the 20th century on the brink of modernization. While their fortune has dwindled, the Torringtons still dress in finery, eat exotic and pricey fare, and act like they’re bourgeois, yet there’s no electric in the house and their future is unsure. The characters are well-drawn and not entirely likable at first — Charlotte is selfish, secretive and prone to periods of neglecting her children, who are in turn snobby and lazy. Although I have never seen Downton Abbey, I suspect there will be comparisons to the show, due to the interactions between the servants and the family members; the main housekeeper is an old friend of Charlotte’s and they share a secret. Out of necessity there’s a breakdown of the class barriers that is humorous and unexpected, which also contributes to the redemption of the family. There’s also an almost sinister feel to the presence of the passengers that adds to the unusual narrative.
This is a fun and fast read, and the pace picks up as the story moves along, making this a book you won’t want to put down once you’ve picked it up. Thanks to the TLC Book Tour for providing this book for review.
Elizabeth reviewed this book when it was out in hardcover last year. Check our her review for another perspective.