Author: Liz Jensen
No. of Pages: 320
Origins: NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA
Bottom Line: More US readers need to introduce themselves to Ms. Jensen’s work, as she excels at creating intelligent, thought-provoking, and immensely readable novels with chilling portents about the world’s, and subsequently our children’s, future, of which The Uninvited ranks among one of her best.
“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 behavioral patterns and an outsider’s fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh’s Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behavior of his beloved stepson, 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.”
Thoughts: Children are typically revered for their innocence and inability to protect themselves. However, anyone who has ever had any interaction with children on a regular basis (which means anyone who has experienced the tortures of puberty) knows that children are cruel little beasts and more than capable of causing damage to others when they want to do so. In The Uninvited, Liz Jensen explores these violent tendencies of children and the psychological impact such actions have on the adult world.
Yet, The Uninvited is not about the child violence. Nor is it about Hesketh’s quirks or brilliance at finding patterns thanks to his inability to connect with people. Rather, The Uninvited explores the impact of a global crisis, highlighting how quickly and how easily society turns to chaos given a surprisingly few number of man-made catastrophes. It truly is the beginnings of an apocalyptic world.
Behind this dynamic are two key discussions regarding global climate changes as well as a very basic discussion of quantum physics and the most recent theories regarding humans’ understanding of time. Ms. Jensen does an excellent job making such technical discussions comprehensible to all readers without diving into details that would impede the story. If anything, her use of recent scientific theories take what could be construed as a paranormal events and makes them plausible. The end result is a scenario that is more terrifying specifically because of its possibility.
Hesketh Lock is an interesting lead character. The way his mind words is absolutely fascinating, as he finds patterns where none seemingly exist and can remove himself from the irrationality provided by emotional reactions. Hesketh’s rationality in the face of the most improbable of scenarios enhances the sense of realism created by the scientific discussions. However, as intriguing as his inability to connect with others is, he is a tragic figure. Some of Hesketh’s responses, or lack thereof, are quite humorous but all scenes are tinged with an underlying sadness at his ongoing struggles to appear “normal” when his Asperger’s Syndrome makes him anything but that. His struggles to recognize his emotions and react accordingly create gut-wrenching scenes that obligate a reader to react on his behalf.
The Uninvited is a rare thriller that refuses to oversimplify the math and science behind its phenomenon and yet compels one to continue with the story. There is a sense of escapism while reading, but one cannot mindlessly plow through the novel without skipping key elements. The tension, vital in any thriller, ratchets up quickly and never completely loosens its grip on the reader, even after one turns the last page. The scenarios discussed within The Uninvited, with their basis in real math and science, make it an intense read made scarier for the possibilities it proposes.