Friday, March 8, 2013

The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

Liz Jensen’s The Uninvited is a fascinating new thriller with an apocalyptic twist.

Corporate investigator Hesketh Lock is a brilliant man, adept at pattern recognition and mental origami. He’s also “wired differently,” showing many signs of Asperger’s syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism characterized in part by difficulty with social skills. Lock uses Venn diagrams to discover order in the world by categorizing events, relationships, and people in overlapping shapes. Despite his inability to experience or express common emotional reactions in a conventional way, he feels some emotions deeply. In the first person narrative, his close observations of the world have a deceptively simple poetry. Lock’s character, his voice—they make this book extraordinary.

The book opens with Lock returning to his isolated island home from a business trip in which he identified an anonymous saboteur at a Chinese factory. We learn that Lock has recently left his girlfriend. We learn that he misses his seven-year-old not-quite-stepson. We learn that the saboteur has killed himself. We learn that the media is full of the story of a sweet and beloved little girl who deliberately killed two family members with a nail gun, out of the blue. Each anecdote is offered in short bursts, as if enclosed in a Venn diagram, seeking organization and meaning. I will not hint to you how all the parts are connected, or why I said “apocalyptic”—you'll have to find out for yourself.

My only criticism: the ending fell a little flat for me: possibly it was the disappointment of having a good book end too soon, possibly the sad truth that a mystery is almost always more compelling than an explanation.  In any case, this was heavily outweighed by the characterization of Hesketh Lock, who I will not forget, and the quality of the writing.

Liz Jensen is the author of several other books, including one we have at Newport: The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, which I plan to put on hold immediately.  

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