Title: The Uninvited
Plot Type: Gothic Romance (with ghosts)
Ratings: Violence—2-3; Sensuality—3; Humor—3
This review begins with an overview of the historical setting, followed by the publisher's blurb and my review of the novel. I highly recommend this book for its imaginatively layered plot, well-developed characters, and engrossing story-telling technique.
|WWI Propaganda Poster|
|Flu Prevention Ad|
|Flu Prevention Ad|
I read only one review before I started my own reading of this book—that of USA Today reviewer Michelle Monkou, who begins her analysis with these words: "Read this book. I refuse to give any spoilers or hints to spoilers. Trust me, you won't be disappointed…" I admit that the first quarter of the book develops slowly, and that I did think (briefly) that I wouldn't finish the book, but Cat Winters is a masterful writer, and she—through Ivy's eloquent first-person voice—soon drew me into a story that kept me reading it straight through in one sitting (which ended at 3:00 a.m.!).
Winters mixes together Emily Dickinson's and Robert Herrick's poetry, Jazz-Age music, war-time grief and hysteria, the terrible flu epidemic, and an ethereal Gothic romance and comes up with an enthralling, mysterious, genre-bending tale. We see just how far humans will go when, in the face of fear, they develop a "patriotic" duty that involves the punishment of easy scapegoats. But we also see that some refuse to succumb to their basest natures. As naive, guilt-driven Ivy moves from one all-new experience to another, she plays a pivotal role in an intricately woven, extraordinary tale that ends with a twist that you won't see coming.
Winters builds the story in layers, with subtle use of foreshadowing and discreet hints. Although the pace is slow in the first few chapters, Ivy's life in town soon develops into a whirlwind of diverse activities. As ghosts begin to appear and events get out of hand, she recalls favorite poems that reflect what is happening to her and listens to the wildly alluring jazz music being played nightly in the Masonic Lodge—music that lifts up her soul and allows her brief escapes from dark reality. At one point, Ivy stands "motionless, mute, absorbing the song...as if receiving anesthetizing doses of laudanum to kill off the pain…I closed my eyes…and let the melody slide through my blood until my heart thump-thump-thumped with jazz and strength and an unexpected surge of hope."
If you stumble over oddly placed details, or seem to see plot holes, or wonder why the paranormal aspect is so light, do not despair. Winters has a reason for each and every word in this book, and as her inventive and perfectly constructed plot reaches its final haunting chapter (Don't peek!), everything will fall into place—I promise. By the time I got to the end, I wanted to read the book again to look for the clues I had missed.
As the plot plays out, Winters creates an otherworldly, achingly romantic atmosphere in which Ivy searches for peace and freedom in a war-torn, disease-ravaged world. The jazz scenes are truly magical. I highly recommend this book for any reader who loves well-written Gothic romances with a touch of the paranormal. You won't be disappointed.
If you are looking for a book club read, Winter includes a set of 15 discussion questions along with a brief historical overview of the period, including the sources she used to create several characters and events. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Uninvited on its Amazon.com page. Just click on the cover art for a print version or the "Listen" icon for audio.