From the Publisher
All their preparations had been in vain. Emerald's birthday
celebrations had begun in confusion and disarray. She cast about
for something sensible to say, something that would reassure her
mother and friends that an hospitable timetable would be
re-established, and was about to suggest the library, and tea, when
she halted, arrested in movement like a musical statue.
She was obeying a prompt, an instinct left over, perhaps, from
an earlier time; the instinct that stops a mouse in its
short-sighted tracks when a cat is watching it from a chair; that
makes a dog lying by the fire tremble, and whimper, when there is
no one near to see.
And as she stopped, there came, of a sudden, a hard gust of
wind behind her, striking her through her dress, forcefully,
blowing all thoughts of convention from her mind. The heavy front
door was closed, but the chill struck Emerald's back, finding its
way through the jamb and hinges - through the solid wood itself, it
seemed, as a cold wave will sometimes catch one as one leaves the
sea and knock the breath from the body.
- from The Uninvited Guests by Sadie
It is the last day of April in 1912, and the country estate of
Sterne is humming with preparations for an intimate dinner party.
Today Emerald Torrington turns 20. The members of the household -
and their guests, now en route - have no idea that over the course
of this single day and night, all their lives will be turned upside
down, for better or for worse.
Charlotte Torrington is Emerald's mother. A great beauty, she was
widowed years ago by her businessman-turned-gentleman-farmer
husband. She has recently remarried, to the steady and loving
Edward Swift. Despite his affable nature, Edward is fiercely
resented by Emerald and her brother Clovis, a dissolute 19 year old
whose days are largely spent moping and plotting. The youngest
family member is Charlotte's youngest daughter, Imogen, known as
Smudge. A frail, faerie-like wild child, she flits through house
and field - and even upon high rooftops - generally
Despite their apparent comfort, the family lives well beyond its
means. Edward has been dispatched to Manchester to borrow money
from a lender of dubious morals. The family employs a handful of
servants to keep the household in minimal working order: there are
the maids Pearl and Myrtle, the groom Robert, and Stanley the
stable boy. Heading up the servants is the housekeeper, Florence
Trieves, a widowed acquaintance from Charlotte's youth. Like
Charlotte, Florence was once a great beauty, but today is a grim
crow-like figure garbed in black. She is furiously making
preparations for tonight's menu, to include such delicacies as
calf's head soup and stewed eel.
The family has invited only their most intimate friends to join
them for the evening's celebration. They are expecting Emerald's
dearest friend, the sweet Patience Sutton, who will be accompanied
by her brother Ernest, an interning physician. Upon their arrival
Emerald discovers that Edward has matured rather pleasingly, no
longer the gawky teenager with whom she once rambled the grounds of
Sterne during long-ago summers. A late invitation has also been
extended to their neighbour, the rich and respectable John
Buchanan, who has been perplexing the lovely Emerald of late with
his hot-and-cold attentions.
But with the arrival of their guests comes distressing news: A
train has derailed, and its survivors - most of whom were
travelling third class - are to be received at Sterne. As the
owners of the only estate in the vicinity, it is the Torringtons'
duty to accept this responsibility, no matter the disruption to
their dinner plans. With Charlotte more preoccupied with naps and
arranging her hair, and Clovis of no help at the best of times,
Emerald must put aside her confusing feelings about the two men now
vying for her attention, and set about preparing for whatever is to
But as the motley crowd of survivors is stowed away in the morning
room, their cries of hunger and discomfort briefly assuaged by tea,
Clovis becomes entranced by their self-appointed leader, the
unnerving and mercurial Charlie Traversham-Beechers. Clovis invites
this brash fellow to join their dinner party, and Emerald is soon
to learn that there can be no adequate preparation for the
strangeness of the evening that is to unfold.
Contemporary readers will find much to relish in this brilliant
pastiche of the greats of Victorian and Edwardian literature.
Deftly composed with liberal sprinklings of acerbic wit, finely
rendered pathos, and spine-tingling horror, The Uninvited
Guests is a once-again triumphant work by a new and
About the Author
Sadie Jones was born in London, England, the daughter of a
Jamaican-born writer and a London-born actress. After leaving
school Jones travelled and taught English as a foreign language in
Paris, before returning to London where she worked as a runner for
a production company, a temporary secretary and as a waitress,
whilst pursuing a professional career as a screenwriter. She
practiced this vocation for 15 years before achieving success with
her first novel, The Outcast, published in
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award, The Outcast
was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Set in the 1950s,
it tells the story of a young boy ostracized from his father and
struggling to conform in claustrophobic, post-war, middle-class
Britain. Her second novel, Small Wars, explores
the atrocities of war and the breakdown of a marriage between a
young and disillusioned British soldier and his wife, against a
backdrop of 1950s Cyprus. The Uninvited Guests is
Sadie Jones's third novel. She lives in London.
1. What is the significance of the epigraph, from the satiric
18th-century masterpiece Don Juan by Lord
2. The technique of the literary "tableau" was frequently
employed by 18th-century novelists, by taking a painterly approach
to describing a particular scene or set-piece that visually echoes
a mood or theme in the wider novel. Can you find instances in which
Jones has used such a device, and what do you think is their
3. Few clocks at Sterne appear to be in working order. Discuss
the imagery associated with timekeeping in the novel.
4. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, this novel
includes several mixed-up pairings of potential lovers who must
overcome a night of disarray and confusion in order to achieve
romantic order. Discuss other ways in which this novel touches on
the themes in Shakespeare's quintessential romantic comedy.
5. What is the significance of dreaming throughout the
6. This novel is set in the period immediately preceding the
First World War, during a rapid period of change from which emerged
the "Machine Age," displacing servant and peasant classes. Discuss
this setting in the context of class structures and technology in
7. Discuss the imagery surrounding food, and the fantastic
descriptions of food that Florence is preparing.
8. Discuss the interdependency (and sometimes blurred
distinctions) between humans and animals throughout the novel.
9. What accounts for Florence's transformation?
10. Discuss the climactic scene involving Lady's descent and the
settling of the travellers near the end of the book. What did it
all mean, in your opinion?
11. This novel straddles many literary genres, from comedy to
social satire to romance and horror. In your mind, which is the
most apt descriptor of this novel? Do such distinctions matter?
12. What do you think of the character Smudge? Will her neglect
prove to be a hindrance or a help in life? And what do you think is
the truth of her birth?
13. Discuss the significance of the nature that surrounds the
house, for instance the flowerbed in which Emerald weeps in the
morning, and in which she later finds love amidst mud and rain.
14. Jones wrote this book using a sweeping omniscient narrative
technique, allowing us glimpses into the inner thoughts and
experiences of each of the characters, even some unexpected ones.
What did you think of this strategy? Could the story have been told
15. At the novel's close, Jones places the word "Curtain"
instead of "End." Why do you think this is?
16. Can you imagine this novel adapted to film? If so, which
actors would you cast for the various roles?