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Book Review: The Uninvited - Arkesh Ajay - The Sunday Indian
 
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Friday, October 20, 2017
 
 

Book Review: The Uninvited

 

The deep, dark end of life
ARKESH AJAY | New Delhi, August 2, 2013 15:15
Tags : The Uninvited | Book Review | Liz Jensen |
 

An apocalyptic world and human relationships in it have always fascinated many a writer. While quite a few have produced interesting works, very few have been able to stretch the genre to dimensions where while being outlandish it still creates a believable world we inhabit today. In succeeding to do so, as in her previous novels, Liz Jensen presents us with The Uninvited - a nightmarish thriller which oscillates between corporate sabotages, child killers, and folklores from across cultures.

Opening with a line that one would certainly remember for days, and following it with a novel which surprises you with its believability, Jensen takes us to a world where seemingly unrelated events unfold, all a part of a message “written in letters too big to read” except from “a vast distance or an unusual angle”. Corporations are being ruined by their own employees, and families are being slaughtered by their own children. And trying to decipher all of this is Jensen’s remarkable protagonist, Hesketh Lock, a consultant with a global trouble-shooting firm and suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome, which makes him someone who treats everything as only an empirical truth.

He is obsessively rational, lacks social skills, cannot lie, or look people in the eye while talking to them, is accused of being a “robot made of meat”, and is obsessed with Origami, which is both his coping mechanism against a world he has never quite understood or felt connected to, and a place where he seeks answers to the questions he often just cannot understand.

It is such a protagonist which allows Jensen the narrative voice which probably is the strongest point of her novel. In a dispassionate way, Hesketh Lock takes us through a world where the happenstances are sure to arouse very passionate responses in the reader. Such intrigue and engagement is created with such a minimalistic matter-of-fact style. Even amidst such turmoil, one feels a sense of calm, because of who we are navigating all of this with.

Though this protagonist, and the compulsions of taking his voice, probably leaves the reader a little exasperated in the first few pages. The action takes a little too long in building up, and often the distracted, or rather, attracted-by-too-many-things, protagonist seems to be getting in the way of the story. Though when the story does warm up, and we are thrown into the deep end of the sea, one may even begin to appreciate the time the author took in taking us there.

Hesketh seems to going through the entire investigation as an uninvolved observer, but when his own stepson is shockingly found to be involved in this dystopian plot, he finds it difficult to remain so. It slowly keeps becoming apparent that some kind of catastrophe is fast approaching, as we keep coming across more and more incidents of such shocking murders and sabotages, but the why and who keeps you riveted. When rationality begins to fail to explain all of this, Lock turns towards the supernatural, “Humans like to believe they’re rational. But the capacity for superstition is part of our DNA…”

On every level of being a supernatural fable, and a psychological thriller, this novel is a good read; but what is Jensen’s greatest achievement are her characters. She is a master class in creating characters who surprise you in their being so relatable, and more so likeable. Hesketh Lock is a difficult man to feel for, because he is often incapable of basic human compassion, made worse by what can be looked as even misogyny. But a few pages into the novel, you will find yourself firmly on his side, and you won’t be able to tell why. And this is with all her characters – they engulf you in their being, almost as if these were people you have seen around you. The author does this through an extremely unconventional narrative technique, and this is what lifts her work beyond the confines of the genre.

The novel is often a work of investigation, and often pure horror. There is enough gore, and also enough to keep you trying to put the clues together, but beyond all of this is what it truly tries to seek an answer to – as to what lies ahead for our species, which seems to be “on the brink of collapse”.

But as much as it is about a world about to end, The Uninvited is about understanding love, and the complicated nature of human relationships. It is in failing to understand these, and the world around us, that true apocalypse lies. Using her fresh imagination, Jensen tells us a tale not previously unheard, but never heard like this. 

Author: Liz Jensen

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 9781408817735

Pages: 320

Price: Rs. 299

Publisher: Bloomsbury


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017