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The Uninvited (2013): No Seconds? All Myself? Why, This Would Make a Man a Man of Salt, to Use His Eyes for Garden Water-Pots.

Liz Jensen, The Uninvited (Bloomsbury, 2013)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

 

photo credit: brokeandbookish.blogspot.com

“So young and untender?”
“So young, my lord, and true.”

I had a very difficult time with the first few chapters of this book. Hesketh Lock’s head is a very difficult place to be, especially if you think like him. Something to be wary of, though once you’ve got the rhythm of Hesketh’s narration down, that becomes less of a problem in Jensen’s absorbing, intricately-plotted, baffling mystery-sci-fi-horror tale…

at least, in the first three-quarters or so of it. Liz Jensen hands us Lock, our narrator, an insurance investigator-cum-spin doctor with Asperger Syndrome; a man for whom logic is everything and clarity is supreme. At least, he wants to think so; as the book opens, on the other hand, we find Hesketh on the island of Arran, off the coast of Scotland, working on a very complex piece of origami while trying to sort out his feelings about the recent breakup of a three-year relationship and his continuing affection for the ex’s son Freddy, a child from a previous relationship with whom Hesketh has a strong bond. All of this is setup, really, and the slow pace of that doesn’t help much; things get better when we meet Ashok, Hesketh’s manic boss, who sends Hesketh winging off to investigate a bit of what seems to be industrial sabotage in southeast Asia. The case is quickly resolved, and Hesketh actually comes to respect the saboteur. But soon after, Hesketh learns in quick succession that (a) the man committed suicide, (b) this may not have been an isolated incident (he is immediately sent to Sweden on another case, which has disturbing similarities), and (c) these cases may be related to a series of violent attacks by children on their family members that is also plaguing the planet. Hesketh, Ashok, and other investigators at their company race to find the answers before society spirals completely out of control, even bringing Hesketh’s mentor, Professor Whybray, out of retirement to assist—but all of them have their own personal baggage to deal with, and some of that starts getting in the way…

I spent the first half of this book amazed at what Liz Jensen was creating. I had no idea where she was going with it all, and was fascinated with the possibilities. Then she dropped the first hint, and I found myself thinking, “please, don’t turn this into a crappy predictable piece of [x] fiction.” It’s to Jensen’s credit that she kept me thinking that until pretty darn close to the final chapter of the book; it felt like she was headed that way, but she never really stepped foot over the line until she absolutely had to. Which does not change the fact that the book picks the easiest, most predictable, most tiring way of resolving all of those previously-interesting bits and tying them all together. Again to Jensen’s credit, she doesn’t tie everything up neatly, as well she shouldn’t; I can’t go into detail without being spoilery, but the simple fact is that, from Hesketh’s perspective, there is no way for him to have gained all of the answers by book’s end, and that’s something too many authors would have failed to realize. In fact, and since I keep using the phrase “to Jensen’s credit” this should be obvious, the book is impeccably-written, most of it is very well-plotted, the main characters are solid, and even when some of the others aren’t, it’s very tempting to paint this as the way Hesketh sees them rather than any defect in Jensen creating them (Kaitlin, his ex, for example; Hesketh describes in a place or two how he’s basically written her off, and so seeing her as two-dimensional makes sense). All well and good…but I can’t get past that overly-facile, annoying resolution. It goes along so well, and then falls off a cliff. And yet, I can’t bring myself to ding the book for that as hard as I desperately want to because it teetered on that edge for so long without actually falling off. There is a lot to be said for this book. Prepare, however, for great disappointment. ** ½

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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