In Anne Korkeakivi’s Mrs.-Dalloway-inspired novel An Unexpected Guest, Clarissa becomes Clare, the wife of a British ambassador living in Paris. Her day becomes a busy one when she has to host a party of distinguished guests at her home due to a last-minute venue switch. If the dinner goes well, her husband Edward will have a shot at being transferred to Dublin, a prospect that both excites and frightens Clare.
Clare, as we learn through flashbacks she suffers from the entire day, has had a questionable past dealing with terrorism in Ireland. Her fears of being caught (25 years after it happened) make her question whether or not to sabotage the party altogether. Clare’s fears are an extension of the time period (a few years after 9/11) when terrorism was the buzz word. When she runs into a Turkish man in the street asking for directions, she questions whether or not he may be wired to blow her up. For Clare is the victim of the worst form of terrorism – fear itself.
I was deeply uninterested in her seemingly sordid past with Niall (an old lover and terrorist who haunts her even to this very day) and found the constant flashbacks a strain on the flow of the story (especially because she rehashes the same three scenes over and over again). But Korkeakivi’s overall style and language were very engaging and she did what only a handful of writers are able to me, which is inspire me to put down the book and write something of my own. And for that fact alone, I commend her.
It’s not a great novel by any means, but it is meaningful and (mostly) engaging. A look at what Clare’s life is in a post-9/11 world makes for an interesting contrast to Clarissa Dalloway’s life nearly 100 years ago. I was disappointed at how short-lived the dinner scene was (since I spent 200 pages watching her prepare for it), but I did enjoy the story arc for Clare’s son Jamie. I’m interested to see what else Korkeakivi writes (as long as it’s not about terrorism).