Adults, be warned
The Uninvited is parable of dysfunctional times. A young child in butterfly pants slaughters her grandmother with a nail gun. Her father, who is the first to reach the scene, loses his eye to his daughter’s aim a few seconds later. Here, we meet Child One. An indication that there are many more to come. The book is engrossing from page one.
A global pandemic of child violence occurs where kids attack adults, even murder them. It is as if they are taking instruction from another power. Parents claim they are not real versions of their children. Author Liz Jenson’s description of the horror as innocent kids robotically slaughter their family members is vivid and ruthless.
The plot thickens when sabotage activities are reported in industries all over the globe, from Taiwan to Sweden and Dubai. “Is violence contagious? Can there be such a thing as psychic occupation?” the narrator and protagonist, 36-year-old anthropologist Hesketh Lock, questions.
As a protagonist, Lock is an interesting character with many layers. His chief coping mechanism is folding origami, and when a paper is not handy, swiftly starts folding paper in his head. He works for Phipps & Wexman, analysing sabotage patterns through Venn diagrams.
Jensen creatively gives the readers a glimpse into Lock’s mind and thought process. Like plucking petals from a flower, she shares one detail at a time, relevent to the character’s growth with the turn of events.
After his recent split with his live-in partner Kaitlin, he moves to the island of Arran in Scotland. While it is easy to get over a cheating partner, Lock misses Freddy, his seven-year-old stepson. Lock’s body clock is so tuned to his son’s daily routine that, time and again, the narrative exposes the warm bond between the stepfather and son as he recollects the goodtimes.
The sabotages take Lock to a timber factory in Taiwan, where a whistle-blower, Sunny Chen, dies after revealing the company’s illegal activities. A handprint, the size of a child’s hand, is found near his body.
In another case, banker Jonas Svennson messes up figures for a coffee future before inflicting harm to himself. According to his wife, Svennson grew seaweed in his backyard and took to drinking Coca-Cola before dying. During interrogation, he attacks Lock, and leaves a bruise on his arm. “If you didn’t know that a grown man had clutched me, you’d think the bruising came from the clutch of a child.”
Another man, Jan de Vries jumps off a terrace in Dubai. Seconds before the jump, Lock sees a little girl in rags. Other workers see her too, but refuse to mention it in the statement claiming the building is by an evil spirit.
A parallel is drawn, between the sabotage and children. Lock, along with his mentor and professor Whybray, sets to unravel this mystery and find logic behind all these occurrences.
The plot takes an interesting turn when Lock’s stepson Freddy starts behaving abnormally and ends up attacking Kaitlin. How will Lock solve this case without harming the boy he loves so much? Freddy, now a split personality, makes references to the Old World and shrugs his shoulders when he hears about his mother’s hospitalisation.
What are all the children trying to say? What is this sudden terrorism act against adults? Is there a parallel world we cannot see and are humans at the brink of the existence, as they know it?
The narrative is pacy and exciting. But, when so many questions are thrown at the reader, you know you are unlikely to get a substantial answer. The end is vague and leaves the answer open for the reader to interpret. An interesting plot, the book manages to creep you out in an entertaining sort of way.
Here, science meets supernatural and there is a very fine line demarking the two. A page-turner, the plot gives you goosebumps.