The Uninvited opens with a scene of intense horror, as a young child slaughters her grandmother with a nail-gun to the neck. “No reason, no warning.” Everyone’s immediate reaction is that there has been a terrible accident, especially as the girl is found staring at the wall, as if in shock; but then she comes to herself, grabs the nail gun, and puts it to her father’s face and fires again. “One murder, one blinding. Two minutes. No accident.” The girl had just turned seven.
The narrator of the tale that begins with this incident is Hesketh, a man who lives in a stone cottage on the island of Arran in Scotland, an isolated place that suits a man who prefers solitude and has a job that doesn’t require him to appear at the Head Office with any great frequency. Hesketh is separated from Kaitlin, which necessarily separates him from her son, Freddy, who is the same age as the girl who shot her grandmother; Hesketh feels the loss of Freddy much more than he does the loss of Kaitlin. Hesketh uses his training in anthropology to find and celebrate whistleblowers in corporations. He does so at the behest of those corporations, who wish to manage the whistleblowers for their own advantage, to show that they are good corporate citizens and avoid bad publicity. It’s a little surprising that Hesketh is able to be so effective at his work, as he has Asperger’s Syndrome. As it applies to him, Asperger’s makes it difficult for him to understand how people will react emotionally to any given set of circumstances, because he does not experience most emotions as the bulk of humanity does.
But Hesketh is, in fact, good at his work, which has him traveling throughout the world. An assignment in Taiwan, at a timber factory, reveals a situation fully as strange as the child who killed her grandmother with a nail gun. Hesketh finds the whistleblower quickly, but the man behaves very oddly. It is plain that he loves the organization that employs him; his father, grandfather and uncles all worked there, and he believes it to be a good company. He also clearly finds whistleblowing to be shameful. Hesketh notes that his movements are “jerky and puppet-like,” and that he has a “hectic look.” It’s almost as if the man acted against his own conscience and his own will in doing as he did. But more mysteriously, the man points to evidence — genuine evidence, not something manufactured — that seems to indicate someone else, in fact, a child, was involved.
The mysteries compound from there, and Hesketh is right in the middle of them. All over the world, people are betraying corporations they love. All over the world, children are killing the adults who care for them. It seems that some sort of apocalypse is underway, but one never foreseen and with no discernible shape. Who or what is the uninvited? And what are they, or it, doing to the world? What is their purpose, their plan? And how do ordinary people figure it out, and what do they do about it?
The story is told entirely in the first person by Hesketh, which makes the narrative mostly seem cold, analytical, emotionless. Consequently, when Hesketh does show emotion, it is all the more powerful. He has an especially interesting voice; seeing through his eyes, watching his habits, his means of coping, is fascinating. His emotional distance makes him able to observe and relate what is happening around him as familiar institutions start to collapse. It’s a great use of character to make an unusual story even more unusual.
And the story is unusual, imaginative, excitingly different. I’ve read nothing like The Uninvited before. It is very different from the average horror or science fiction novel, imagining events that seem unimaginable in exquisite detail. Despite the veritable arms race among thriller writers to make their viewpoint characters in some way “other,” giving them a disease or disorder that sets them apart from the mass of humanity, Jensen’s novel is the most skillful use of such a technique I’ve seen. It is a bleak tale, telling of an end to the world that seems entirely meaningless, an end that humans are helpless to prevent at any level. Yet there is a beauty to it, too, and an odd note that perhaps what is happening is not an ending, but merely a change. This is not an easy novel, but it is eminently worthwhile.