The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

The Uninvited is the third of Liz Jensen's novels I've read. Like the previous two, The Rapture and The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, it features sinister children who appear to have mysterious, possibly psychic abilities. It also returns to The Rapture's theme of a world teetering on the edge of dystopia. I can't quite decide whether this means Liz Jensen is shamelessly recycling ideas or whether she has simply invented her own genre, but because I enjoy her work so much, I'll veer towards the latter.

The Uninvited begins with two apparently separate phenomena which seem to be occurring worldwide. One is a spate of murders committed by otherwise non-violent children, and the other is a series of incidences of industrial sabotage. The novel's narrator Hesketh Lock is an anthropologist whose Asperger's Syndrome, while problematic when it comes to social interaction, provides a degree of detachment that's useful in his job as a troubleshooting consultant specialising in analysing corporate cultures and behaviours.

Hesketh, sent by his employer to investigate seemingly unconnected sabotage attempts in large industrial firms across the world, soon begins to notice patterns and similarities which, he argues, can't possibly be coincidental - and what's the connection with the sabotage incidents and the sudden outbreak of murders by young children?

The matter-of-factness of Hesketh's narrative style is comic and tragic by turns in contrast to the drama, and indeed horror, of the events he describes, and his blunt honesty, despite his ex-partner Caitlin's cruel jibe that he is 'a robot made of meat', is endearing. Even more endearing is his love for Caitlin's young son Freddy, which is unconditional yet strangely unsentimental. When the world is falling apart in ever more disturbing ways and chaos begins to descend, it's Hesketh's unceasing rationality that seems far more compassionate than the kneejerk hysteria of those around him.

If I was to compare Liz Jensen's work to anyone else's, I'd say there are shades of John Wyndham there, perhaps similarities to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. There are strong science-fiction elements to The Uninvited, and it has the tight plot and tense mystery of a thriller, but it's so much more than that. The clues that build up to the story's conclusion don't just come from the plot, but also from the language and behaviour of the characters. For instance, Hesketh has taught Freddy to respond to the phrase 'I don't know' by replying 'Not yet': this is just a rather sweet affectation between the two of them, but comes to seem chillingly significant later on. 

The overall vision of The Uninvited is a bleak one and it's not always a comfortable read, but there are sparks of hope there and it's not without humour too. Liz Jensen is fast becoming one of my favourite writers.