It is Emerald’s birthday and she has invited a few select guests to her gathering at Sterne, the family home. Her brother Clovis, irritating and rather self centred, her younger much over looked sister Imogen known to all as ‘Smudge’ and their mother Charlotte. A woman caught up in the grief of something in the past, and although she has seemingly got over the death of her first husband and the children’s father Horace Torrington which enabled them to live in Sterne, she soon married Edward Swift who actually within the first pages of the book makes a swift departure out of Sterne – he is off to save it.
So the party will go on without him.
But the family do not envisage having to become a rescue centre for a great many more people who rather taint Emeralds birthday.
When Emerald’s other guests arrive, the rather vacuous Patience Sutton and her brother Ernest, they tell of a train crash and within minutes a huddled group are walking towards Sterne to seek refuge. Directed by someone at the railway.
So the planned dinner takes on a new twist, as the food prepared is distributed rather differently that imagined by Florence Trieves, family cook and retainer. Guests are moved from room to room, filling spaces physically and becoming part of the atmosphere.
One of the guests breaks away and infiltrates the family dinner, which with all the Britishness of a Country House Dinner carries on, unfazed by the goings on in the rest of the house. This man turns out to know something about everyone and a dangerous game is played.
Meanwhile, Smudge rather forgotten in parts has her own game in fact this is her ‘Great Undertaking’ and not something I guessed at all.
And so the night draws to a close, the uninvited guests are restless; wanting to sleep. The invited guests are restless from their game and suddenly look charitably upon those uninvited and do everything to help. Whilst the guest that was not planned to turn at Sterne, (only Smudge knew) brings a diversion and then a conclusion.
And so a rather eccentric book ends. Neatly tying everything up.
This book for me has resonant of Wodehouse, with the language and the quirky behaviour of people when forced into situations. Although I recognise this setting is some ten years earlier of Bertie Wooster. If you have ever read An Inspector Calls then you will recognise something familiar. The wonderful Smudge to me was familiar, she could have been the delightful Flavia de Luce some forty years earlier and the ‘Great Undertaking’ was rather an unexpected twist of events.
The book takes a while to get going, and you have to stick with it, it has some rather funny witty moments, some rather sad pathos within the writing, and an atmosphere all of its own. Some of the characters could do with more development and background would have perhaps made it a more rounded novel. It is not a bad book just a very different book from what you were probably expecting.
If you have read Sadie Jones previous novels then this will surprise you no end. It is nothing like them at all.
If you have never read her novels before then start with this one, because when you read her previous two they will surprise you as well.
Thank you to Amazon Vine for allowing me the opportunity to read this book.
It must be a great risk for any author to completely change direction with style and subject matter. I went back and looked at my review of her last book, Small Wars and noticed that I comment how different that book is from her debut novel The Outcast which was an excellent book. Sadie Jones has done it again with this book. I wonder does an author have all these ideas of books and wants to write them without becoming well known for one particular genre? Or do they try hard to stick to what their publishers want?
Linda Gillard comments on such authors writing castly different novels and has personal experience of not sticking to one particular genre. I am not predicting Sadie Jones to suddenly be dropped by anyone but I think it is interesting when an author writes such vastly different books.
Have you any suggestions where authors have changed the type of novel they have written and been surprised?