From the award-winning author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes a stunning new novel—a masterfully crafted story of love, loss, and second chances. Set during the fear and panic of the Great Influenza of 1918, The Uninvited is part gothic ghost-story, part psychological thriller, perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.
Twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan rises from her bed after being struck by the flu, only to discover the world has been torn apart in just a few short days.
But Ivy’s life-long gift—or curse—remains. For she sees the uninvited ones—ghosts of loved ones who appear to her, unasked, unwelcomed, for they always herald impending death. On that October evening in 1918 she sees the spirit of her grandmother, rocking in her mother’s chair. An hour later, she learns her younger brother and father have killed a young German out of retaliation for the death of Ivy’s older brother Billy in the Great War.
Horrified, she leaves home, to discover the flu has caused utter panic and the rules governing society have broken down. Ivy is drawn into this new world of jazz, passion, and freedom, where people live for the day, because they could be stricken by nightfall. But as her ‘uninvited guests’ begin to appear to her more often, she knows her life will be torn apart once more, but Ivy has no inkling of the other-worldly revelations about to unfold.
Another winner from Cat Winters.
America likes to sanitise its war history, particularly with regards to its saviour status with both world wars. However, the book depicts the rampant anti-German, and to a lesser extent, anti-immigrant sentiment at the time of world war one that led to the banishment, isolation and even deaths of Germans in America – businesses destroyed or boycotted, physical assaults, refusal of bank loans, taunts and jeers, and imprisonment of these ‘aliens’, to name but a few. Wikipedia has a pretty concise roundup here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-German_sentiment#United_States
Even worse, the American Protective League was a group of citizens who worked hand in hand with law enforcement, and spied on and dutifully punished anyone who sympathised, expressed objections, had socialist tendencies, or essentially didn’t meet the criteria for a 100% American patriot. This typical American patriotism sentiment exists to this day, and leaves no room for criticism – if you aren’t 100% with us, then you’re the enemy against us.
Cat Winters incorporates these fascinating, albeit depressing nuggets of history to create a compelling tale involving Ivy Rowan, whose father and brother murder a German shopkeeper in the town in retaliation for her other brother’s death in the war. She tries to make amends with the remaining brother who runs the store, and ends up in a complicated relationship with him. Of course, while all this is going on, the influenza is running rampant across the town, with the daily death toll steadily rising.
This devastating flu and suffering is visceral, and testament to the quality of the author’s writing. We get a glimpse into the lives of those working tirelessly, day after day, night after night, wading through sickness and filth to help out the less priviledged – immigrants and black people, who don’t get access to the treatment they need in order to survive the sickness.
A recurrent theme throughout all Cat Winter’s novels is the role and growing emancipation of women in rather restricted eras. Here, we have women working ceaselessly for the Red Cross, driving ambulances, transporting patients, and generally taking on duties previously undertaken by men.
While this book is categorised as adult, it didn’t feel massively different from her YA novels – and this isn’t a criticism – it means that if you’ve enjoyed the author’s previous work, you will adore The Uninvited.
Also, major plot twist that I didn’t see coming. Major kudos to the author for creating a book that incorporates the uglier parts of history while still creating a fascinating, bittersweet novel with admirable female leads, a little bit of humour, and a romance that you can’t help but root for, even with the giant obstacles in their way.
ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.