Friday, June 15, 2012

An Unexpected Guest Comes Calling

Most people have done something in their past that they regret, at least until they find resolution. For American-born Clare Moorhouse, it was falling in love with a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the things she did with him. But that was about 20 years ago.

Since, she had met an ambitious protocol-cautious British diplomat, married, had two children, and saw the world as her husband advanced to become a British minister in Paris, the de facto deputy head of the embassy in France. Her brief time in Ireland was a distant but not unforgotten memory.

That is, it was distant until the ambassador is diagnosed with viral pneumonia and Edward is asked to host a dinner for the permanent under-secretary and twelve guests. The dinner is not without an alternative agenda either. The under-secretary is in charge of ambassadorial appointments and the ambassadorship in Dublin will soon be vacant.

An Unexpected Guest is a story about regret, resolution, and redemption. 

With Edward having his hands full dealing with the repercussions of the London bombings (2005), Clare is asked to make all the arrangements for the last minute dinner. As the wife of a diplomat, her performance in preparing the extravagantly-detailed dinner would be just as likely to be scrutinized as Edward would be for the position.

Never mind that Dublin is the last place on earth that Clare would want her husband to be stationed. Even after all their years together, she had purposefully and meticulously avoided visiting Ireland again. But now, she was faced with a choice. Either she could pull off the dinner or she could come clean and tell her husband a secret that she has always kept to herself.

If the decision were not difficult enough for Clare, she is a beset by steadily growing series of distractions. Her youngest son at a boarding school in the U.K. has been suspended. She runs into a Turkish man, later identified as the primary suspect in an assassination, during her errands in preparation for the dinner. And, even though she believed him to be dead, she continually sees passing glances of Niall, the IRA terrorist she fell in love with so many years ago.

Author Anne Korkeakivi slowly weaves in clarity about Clare's relationship with Niall in between the tedious details of preparing the dinner with the help of staff. While never fully realized, there is an underlying contrast to the calculated and analytical diplomat's wife she has become and the doe-eyed Irish American abroad.

Korkeakivi scratches at identity; who we are instead of what we are. 

After 20 years, she has undoubtedly adsorbed all the trappings of proper protocol that comes with her station. Enough so that some readers will likely find the Moorhouses' half-Swiss and half-Scottish cook Mathilde more endearing as a crotchety curmudgeon in the kitchen or outside of it. But that is part of the story.

Clare has become so comfortable in her costume of etiquette that she never addressed the guilt or decades of deceit related to her darker past. It was easier to shrug it off as the naivety of youth until faced with it again. It is especially painful for her as she learns her son's suspension could possibly be linked to a parallel path to the one she took.

The very best of the book revolves around how people identity with heritage, position, and status as they contort themselves to fit the roles they are either born with or acquire. The most troubling aspect of the work is how passive the protagonist can be. Things happen to her more than she makes anything happen, until the very end. But even then, the transformation leads to moral acuity as opposed any thrilling conformation or conflict, which is what she primes readers to want.

A bit about first-time novelist Anne Korkeakivi.

There is no doubt that this book by Anne Korkeakivi is an excellent start to a promising career beyond her short fiction. She has talent in weaving words together, enough to be accepted by Atlantic, the Yale Review and other magazines. She currently lives in Switzerland with her husband and two daughters but was raised in New York City and Massachusetts.

She has been fascinated by the amount of attention given to the dinner party, she says, as opposed to issues of revolving around the past and present, privacy and public, and changes that have occurred in a post 9-11 world. But that may be par for the course. Her dinner party details are so crystalizing, it makes sense that some readers would be transfixed. The rest of it, you have to bring with you.

An Unexpected Guest By Anne Korkeakivi Plates 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The novel is well worth the read, but don't mistake it as a thriller. It's also a tall order to compare the book to Mrs. Dolloway by Virginia Woolf as some misguided critics have done. Sure, some can make the case, but it does An Unexpected Guest a disservice laying out an unrelated direction.

An Unexpected Guest: A Novel by Anne Korkeakivi is available from Amazon. You can also find the book on Barnes & Noble or download it from iBooks. The audiobook, which is available at iTunes, is narrated by Ellen Archer, who brings a particular panache to the story by handling some of the harder transition between the present and past and breathing life into all of the supporting characters.
blog comments powered by Disqus