Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensen’s The Uninvited

 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvited

 (probably contains spoilers, so stop reading if that sort of thing bothers you)

If I’ve learned anything from books this year, it’s that if humanity as we know it is going to come to an end, it’s going to be kids that are the helm of it all. Liz Jensen’s The Uninvited bundles up all of the psychotic adolescence of Lord of the Flies, blends it with the freaky post-human invasion of The Midwich Cuckoos, adds in a bit of 1Q84‘s [review] blurring of temporal and experiential boundaries, and then tops it off with a bit of Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human. As elevator pitches go, it’s a pretty good advertisement for birth control.

Like Murakami’s massively hyped 1Q84The Uninvited employs a detached narrator to do its bidding, and rightly so. Murakami gave us Tengo Kawama, a quiet man-child of a character whose insight is lacking on an emotional level: his skills are in mathematics and in the analytical breaking down of events. It’s something that’s almost needed, however, in order to give balance to the chaos of time-slips, cults, freaky little people building cocoons out of goats and so on, and it’s perhaps why Jensen gives us a similar narrator in The Uninvited‘s Hesketh Lock. Lock has Asperger’s Syndrome: he’s high functioning intellectually, but has difficulty identifying emotional and communicative cues. Instead of the little people and their cocoons, however, Lock is dealing with freaky children with a penchant for salt, the building of tall structures out of household items, and a yen for murder.

Curiously, I found Lock not at all different from Murakami’s typical protagonist, with his wide-reaching ethnographic awareness, unusual job, and lonely and emotionally withheld existence. All that’s missing is the ubiquitous Murikamian cucumber sandwich, really. The similarities are there to such a degree that when I read of Lock’s habit of folding mental origami in order to soothe his frayed nerves, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a nod to Murakami’s work.

Murakami’s detached, unattached narrators provide a thematic and narrative counterpoint to the strange realities of his books, and Jensen’s Lock does the same in the creeping strangeness of The Uninvited. When we begin to see the true story of what’s behind all of these sudden workplace deaths and parenticides, it’s such a huge thing–a thing that has consequences for the evolution/existence of humanity as a whole–that it almost needs such a narrator to be able to offer a viewpoint that’s uncomplicated by a frenzy of emotions.

It’s in Lock’s positioning as an almost post-human, or perhaps at least a slight upgrade on the rest of us, that we begin to see resonances of The Midwich Cuckoos [review], John Wyndham’s haunting novel about an alien(?) invasion that results in the mass birth of a group of children who share a collective intelligence and who represent, possibly, an evolved form of humanity. Lock becomes placed in the middle of it all, and necessarily really, being somewhere between neurotypical humans and the evolved, experentially-connected kids who begin committing in sorts of ghastly acts in the name of some greater good whose identity we don’t learn until much later on. This, too, is perhaps true of the professor character Zellaby in The Midwich Cuckoos: he’s the only one who stands any chance of overthrowing what becomes a sort of weird military child invasion. Unfortunately for Lock, things aren’t going to be as easy in The Uninvited, perhaps because his (pseudo)adopted son Freddy is caught up in all the madness, where Zellaby’s daughter miscarried her “cuckoo” child, severing any similar possible connection.

Many of the same issues that occur in The Midwich Cuckoos crop up in The Uninvited as well. For example, the legal status of “evolved” individuals, especially given that they’re minors and have curtailed participative rights anyway. How do you treat a group of people who are, in the case of The Uninvited, effectively terrorists, and in The Midwich Cuckoos, effectively insurrectionists, when they’re possibly not even people at all? In both instances, the wider society looks for proof of “outsiderness”, in order to justify treatment that would otherwise violate human rights. (NB: if you have a third kidney or like to salt your food, run away right now.) How can we apply our legal system to a group of non-humans? asks The Midwich CuckoosThe Uninvited, on the other hand, is dealing with a much riskier group of individuals–they’re aggressively violent, not violent only in retaliation, as the cuckoos are. But in both cases, the groups are small, reliant on our resources and infrastructure, and they’re desperate to protect themselves from us–whom they see as barbaric, but yet a formidable enemy.

Interestingly, where The Midwich Cuckoos largely keeps its focus to a small town in England, Jensen’s invasion is a global one, and she emphasises this nature through the culturally influenced perceptions of her characters about what’s going on. One person’s ghost is another person’s djinn. Perhaps this is the mark of a novel written in the present day as opposed to one written during the cold war era, but what made Wyndham’s book so utterly terrifying was that it’s the end of the world on a tiny, village-size scale. It’s so personal and so possible, and it’s about people like the rest of us. 

The Uninvited, on the other hand, looks at our world on a grander scale, with a grander, more participative protagonist who is yet removed from the reader by the very way in which he processes the world. It’s still creepy, but it’s at its creepiest when it’s zoomed in to Hesketh’s relationship with Freddy than it is exploring the situation panoramically: thousands of freaky, but largely anonymous kids running around killing largely anonymous people. It’s probably an effective parallel between that time and ours: our own ways of disconnectedness and insularity, which occur not because we don’t know what’s going on around us, but because there’s so much of it that we have to filter it all out. But at the same time, it doesn’t quite resonate in the same way.

For me, the sheer scope of The Uninvited was what caused it to fall short for me. It feels meandering and confused for the first third–or even two thirds–however, when the pieces begin to come together at the end, the reveal is so large and grandiose that it almost needs to be the beginning of the story, not the end of it. And yet, how do you even go about writing such a thing? Is the end of the world really the end of the world? Or is the mere awareness that the world as we know it is about to end enough to stand in for the physical end itself? It’s a formidable concept, but one that I didn’t feel was done justice here.

 Rating: star 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvitedstar 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvitedhalfstar 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvitedblankstar 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvitedblankstar 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvited (not bad)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing The Univited from

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia | The Nile

 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvited
 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvited
 1Q84, The Midwich Cuckoos and Liz Jensens The Uninvited

8 comments

  1. Arrck! Really wanted to read your thoughts on this book seeing that it’s so BIG that I don’t know if I’d tackle it but… “probably contains spoilers, so stop reading if that sort of thing bothers you” and it does :(

    Read your last paragraph though and it still leaves me on the fence ;p To Read or Not to Read LOL

    • Stephanie /

      Hee! Sorry, Tien. :) And I passed on my copy to a friend, or I’d post it up to you! Here’s a spoiler-free summary for you:

      For me, this one is a “maybe” read. I found the concept interesting, but felt that the book ended where it probably should have began, and that the first two thirds felt very muddled. I found the writing a bit bland, and I couldn’t help but feel that the asperger narrator is a bit prevalent at the moment (I’ve read half a dozen or so such books this year!). Ignore the blurb if you’re looking for a summary: this one isn’t about something so mundane as juvenile violence–there’s much more to it than that. If you’re interested in potentially huge changes to our conceptualisations of human existence and what it means to be human, then you might enjoy it. I’d recommend reading it alongside books such as The Midwich Cuckoos, Lord of the Flies, 1Q84 and 0.4 to increase your appreciation of it, though. :)

      • It can tend to be a bit much if you’re reading similar things one after the other (re: aspergers), do you think that affected your thoughts on this book by a lot?

        I’ve only read Lord of the Flies out of the 4 and didn’t particularly liked it despite all that you’re supposed to get out of it. I shudder when I think of that book – bit of a sissy ;p

        • Stephanie /

          To be honest, I think it did. I’ve read about three or four books featuring an “aspie” character this year, and the use of such a character seems to encourage a similarity in approach. The same is true of another book I’m going to review later this week–it’s the third school shooting book I’ve read this year, and it’s hard not to feel a bit jaded!

          Hmm, well, if you were a bit overwhelmed by Lord of the Flies, be warned that this one’s a bit gory!

  2. I didn’t read this review because I have it from Netgalley to read, but I don’t like the score you gave it, so now I’m worried

    • Stephanie /

      Now, now, a star rating is not interchangeable with a review. :) I think whether you like this one will depend a lot on whether you’ve read a few similar books in this genre. I can definitely see readers loving this one, but for me it didn’t quite live up to the other books I mentioned in this post, and I’ve read quite a few books with similar writing styles and characters this year, so it felt a little familiar to me.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers