An Unexpected Guest
Little, Brown & Co., 2012 (2012)
Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle
lare Moorhouse seems to lead a charmed life. An American married to a high-ranking British diplomat, she has been living in Paris, a city she loves, for the past three years. In addition to assisting her husband with necessary entertaining in the lavish Residence provided to them by the government, she supervises a staff, raises her two sons, and is lucky to have a part-time job translating art books and catalogues for the Rodin Museum. She speaks fluent French and loves almost everything about her life, with a few notable exceptions, such as the loss of privacy, the ever-present possibility of relocation, and security issues. Then, too, there is the fear that somehow someone would discover an illegal activity in which she was involved twenty-five years before, when she was in her early twenties and in love with a
, who seemed to have a connection with the Irish Republican Army.
n Unexpected Guest
takes place during one long day, when Clare finds herself preparing for a dinner party which she believes will gain a promotion for her husband to a diplomatic post in Dublin. She is terrified that were they to relocate to Ireland, her
all those years ago would come to light, and someone in Dublin would recognize and expose her. She thinks about the cousin, Niall, every day, and believes that she has sighted him in Paris and other locations over the years, even though she knows that to be impossible, since he died in an explosion in Northern Ireland a few months after the last time she saw him. Clare dreads moving to Ireland and has consistently resisted her husband's attempts to vacation there, but she also believes that he needs and deserves the posting to further his career. She begins planning for the dinner, therefore, with all the care and efficiency that she has managed during their twenty year marriage.
s her day progresses, several strange events occur - one involving a possible terrorist and a murder; one her younger son, who has gotten into some kind of trouble at his boarding school in England; and the strangest one an encounter in the garden of the Rodin Museum shortly before she must return home for the dinner. She struggles with her inner thoughts as well as the arrangements for the party during the course of the day, and we learn, little by little, what actually happened before and during her one earlier trip to Dublin.
lare is an admirable character, trying so hard to do the right thing for her husband's career, even though she is afraid of the personal repercussions. As the story progresses, we find her also working hard to be a good mother in the face of her ignorance as to the exact nature of her son's transgression, and later, worrying about the possible terrorist, a man she encountered on the street in the morning, who frightened her because he looked Middle Eastern. When she realizes that he is ill and needs her help in locating a doctor's office, she feels guilty for profiling him and walks with him until she is sure that he will be able to find the address he has asked her about.
his is a quiet story, but there is an undercurrent of Clare's fear and worry, and some real events that make the reader wonder whether something really awful might happen. There are beautiful descriptions of Paris streets and the lovely spring day that Clare navigates as her story develops. Many of us must have youthful indiscretions or lovers who come back to haunt us from time to time, and it's easy to identify with Clare, even though her flirting with illegal activity would be worse than most of us would admit to.
An Unexpected Guest
keeps the tension building right up to the end, where surprises await both Clare and the reader.
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