Hay Fever meets Saki and M.R.James
This was a most clever, witty and also unsettling read. Reminding me at times of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, where an upper middle class family, self-obsessed and selfish – but undoubtedly charming – if they want to be – and witty, invite a house-party of weekend guests to be an audience and entertainment for them. Sadie Jones has injected a more consciously spiteful, and even brutal, cast to the family, which points towards Saki as an influence. One of the central characters is even called Clovis, a deadly, sharp, bored, cruel but entertainingly gorgeous young man.
The invited guests are gathered to celebrate the eldest daughter’s birthday, and include several likely young men, who might or might not bring money to our family, if marriage were to result – and money they certainly need, to save their house from being sold. There is also a self-effacing young woman who might provide a love interest for Clovis.
The small group of staff/servants (one of whom is not quite so simply described) are inevitably rushed off their feet, and there is a certain amount of above and below stairs contrast.
However, the nub of the story is the injection of the disquieting M.R.James element. A train crash bring an expanding group of uninvited guests, who are disconcerting to our family because they are of a different class, and also, for other intangible reasons.
Jones has managed to weave together a comedy of manners, set in the first decade of the 20th century, with something teetering on the edge of a horror or ghost story. Brittle wit and sharply glacial characterisation is undercut with a whiff of the diabolic and the sinister. Her overall direction is towards the sunny uplands of playful comedy, but the opening of this family’s can of worms, and a nod to the satanic, works well, and creates a very enjoyable read