I finished reading An Unexpected Guest, the debut novel by author Anne Korkeakivi, several weeks ago and have been pondering what to write about it ever since. Although the events in the book take place over the course of one day, the way that day unfolds brings the main character face to face with her past, adding layers of complexity to even the most simple of choices.
Claire Moorhouse is the American wife of a British diplomat stationed in Paris. Due to the sudden illness of the British Ambassador, she has been tasked with hosting a dinner party that evening, coinciding with rumors that her husband, Edward, is favored for the soon-to-be-available Irish ambassadorship. Unfortunately, we also learn that Claire is torn between her commitment to supporting her husband’s career and her desire to avoid setting foot on Irish soil ever again. The reason for this is revealed throughout the day, as Claire reflects on a time in her youth that she has never shared with anyone, including Edward.
Even while Claire smoothly begins her preparations for the important event, she is further troubled by a call from her younger son, Jamie, who has apparently left his boarding school without permission and is on his way home. Although it is unclear until much later in the day the nature and extent of the problem, she eventually learns that he is in danger of suspension and possibly worse, if he continues in the direction he has started.
The memories of Claire’s past are interwoven with her attempts to discover exactly what is going on with Jamie and the execution of her myriad hostess duties, from planning the meal with her tempermental chef to visiting shops for necessary items such as cheese and flowers to writing out the place cards once the guest list has been finalized.
In this elegant novel, Korkeakivi gives us an intimate look into the intricacies of embassy life and how the expectations and requirements of that world affect Claire’s decisions in matters both small and large. Beyond this, she has created a complex and thoughtful character with whom we can empathize over her realization that her choices will affect the well-being of not only her immediate family, but of those she interacts with during the course of her day, some in more crucial ways than others.
An Unexpected Guest is an entrancing book which builds slowly, layer upon layer, but rewards the patient reader powerfully in the end, and I was surprised how much it stuck with me even after finishing the book and moving on to several others since then. I’m curious what books have left a surprisingly lasting impression on you and would love for you to leave a comment with your thoughts.
Trish has definitely made a few choices in her life that she would like to revisit, but is grateful that we can at least learn from our past and make better choices in the future. She blogs at In So Many Words.
Melissa Mc says
I almost pre-ordered this on a whim…may need to follow my instinct next time!
Lasting impression: City of Thieves by David Benioff. I’m still haunted by many of the scenes and images portrayed in his book. And I read it 4 years ago.
It’s graphic and profane. Not for everyone.
Wow, 4 years is a long time to have stuck with you so strongly! Some of the books that are the hardest to read are the most worth it in the end, I suppose.
Ginny at Random Acts of Momness says
This sounds like a fascinating novel!
I recently read The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons and I kept thinking about it in the days that followed. The love story was surprising in some ways — and not surprising in others — it’s hard to explain without giving away spoilers. Still, a very good read.
So interesting that both you and Melissa mentioned books that take place during the Nazi/WWII era. I imagine that aspect adds to the intensity of the stories.
Barb: 1SentenceDiary says
Oh, lots of books have stayed with me for a loooong time. Two that come to mind:
Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Categorized as science fiction, I found it a novel about what happens when a good person tries to do the right thing for the right reasons, and still terrible harm follows. A major theme is the search God and what it means to be devinely inspired.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. A non-fiction book in style of a novel, this book is the true story of Chicago in the late 1800s. The book discusses the challenges of building and hosting the World’s Fair, juxtoposed with a real serial killer who lived nearby. And it’s all true.
Barb–I’ve heard of Sparrow. I think they did an online book club fairly recently. It does sound interesting.
Ooh, yes, I’ve read the Russell books and they were fascinating. Another S/F one that I found similarly compelling is Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark. The Larson book sounds intense as well!
I’m a patient reader and I actually prefer novels where the plot unfolds over a period of time rather than having all the facts dumped on me in the first chapter.
As for memorable reads, I think it’s more about reading the same books at a later stage in life and finding how much my opinions and attitudes have changed. I’ve gives me a better perspective on myself, hopefully a better one.
I have been sharing books with a girl at work that is much like you – she complains when I give her one that starts too fast. 🙂
I like your idea about re-reading books and seeing how your reaction has changed over time. Makes a lot of sense.
Jennifer Haigh’s novel The Condition really impacted me. It was a little quirky, dramatic, a story of a family. I read it many years ago as well.
Another (that I’ve been meaning to re-read) is similarly quirky — but funny whereas that one was not is Finny.
Interesting choices. I recall reading The Condition now that I look at the description again, but don’t think I have read Finny. It’s so fascinating to see what books have really stuck with people.