The Uninvited by Liz Jensen
A seven-year-old girl puts a nail-gun to her grandmother’s neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious?
As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry. Hesketh has never been good at relationships: Asperger’s Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioural patterns, and an outsider’s fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh’s Southeast Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behaviour of his beloved step-son, Freddy. But when Hesketh’s Taiwan contact dies shockingly and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, he is forced to acknowledge possibilities that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career and, most devastatingly of all, his role as a father.
Part psychological thriller, part dystopian nightmare, The Uninvited is a powerful and viscerally unsettling portrait of apocalypse in embryo.
I have to begin with a confession. I started reading this book last month, but had to take a break from it. The last thing I wanted to do was to read about unspeakable, random acts of violence when at the time that is exactly what was plastered all over the news. That said, what I had read of The Uninvited had stayed with me and I decided after some time that I did I want to go back and complete reading it.
Hesketh’s condition makes his outlook and actions appear almost alien to other people. Ironically, though he has difficulty with social interaction this does make him a near perfect observer of human behaviour. He is the ideal person to investigate and interpret the signs and signals that are appearing throughout society. I think this may be where I had a little trouble with the novel. Hesketh is so different to the protagonists that I am used to, that initially I had difficulty appreciating his motivations and reactions to some of the situations he finds himself in. It took me a while to connect with him and this in turn made it difficult for me to empathise. It was only at the point where Hesketh’s stepson Freddy appears where things all started to fall into place. Freddy’s introduction adds a much-needed human face to the global catastrophe that is unfolding. The relationship that Hesketh and Freddy share helps to drive home the personal nature of the tragedy.
This is where Jensen’s writing really succeeds for me. She creates a global tragedy, but gives it a very intimate feel. Not only does the novel explore this through the relationship between Hesketh and Freddy, but Hesketh’s colleagues also have to face up to the same levels of trauma. Hesketh’s boss, Ashok, in particular is changed in a profound way by his experiences.
A final word of warning though – The Uninvited is undoubtedly a fascinating read but the subject matter can be, at times, harrowing. I’m sure, based on the book blurb above, you may have already guessed that this novel takes the reader to some pretty dark places. Those of a nervous disposition may wish to consider something a little more upbeat. If, like me however, you’re a fan of bleak, psychological horror then this may be a novel you wish to consider. I don’t think I could describe this novel as enjoyable read but it is most assuredly a thought provoking one. Jensen is a skilled writer and knows exactly which emotion buttons to press in order to illicit the response she wants from any reader.
The Uninvited is published by Bloomsbury and is available now.