An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi

16th July 2012

*The publisher Little, Brown and Company sent me this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Time rained down on Clare. 8:30 a.m., on the clock hanging above the breakfast alcove. Twenty-five years of pretending Ireland never existed.

She would have to step again into that air terminal. Stare into the dark waters of the River Liffey. Look over her shoulder at every instant.


Clare Moorhouse is the wife of the British diplomat in Paris. An American with Irish roots, Clare finds out rather suddenly that her husband’s post may be moved to Dublin and that she has half a day to prepare for a dinner party. Unsettled by the news because of an incident in her past, Clare tries to focus on the matter at hand but is constantly distracted by a figure from her past she sees over and over again in the market, on the street, through the florist’s shop window. Is he really there? Or is Clare so fixated on the guilt in her past that she conjures him? Over the course of one day full of planning, pacifying the cook, and trying to figure out why her son has suddenly arrived home from boarding school, Clare must face her unexpected guest and welcome or banish the memories that come with him.

Clare is of Irish descent, and though she’s told her husband she’s never been to Ireland, it’s not quite true. Twenty years earlier, she flew to Ireland carrying something for her lover, something she is now sure had sinister repercussions in a war-torn country. A move to Ireland terrifies her because of her secret, though she’s sure no one could trace the incident to her. As she plans a seating chart and arranges silverware orders, the brief summer she spent with Nyall plays back to her, and a chance meeting in the street with an accused terrorist brings her ever closer to ruin. Her son is unexpectedly home from school, and something is wrong, but she doesn’t have the time or energy to find out what, not today. Not when she sees Nyall across every street corner and in her mind.

An Unexpected Guest is a quiet novel, and what I mean by quiet is that it is a novel that is very interior. Aside from brief scenes with dialogue, almost all the novel is narrated from Clare’s mind, her thoughts and her recollections. Her life is very ordered. Married to a diplomat, life must be ordered, particularly when the difference between having salmon or whitefish for dinner is the difference between pleasing and insulting foreign dignitaries. This day, though, Clare is in disarray – at least on the inside. The strength of a domestic novel lies in its central internal debate (as picking out flowers, choosing cuts of meat, and polishing silver is only so entertaining), and An Unexpected Guest is no different; however, the several oddly-related coincidences that fuel the external actions seemed a little too convenient in drawing out Clare’s emotional reaction.

Read this if you like domestic novels and/or enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway or The Hours.

  • I was totally thinking Mrs Dalloway as I read the description of this one — sounds like it could be fun. Has an autumnal feel, at least for me — I like quiet fiction in the fall.

    • You know, I didn’t think of it that way, but it definitely is a good fall book.

  • Totally sounds like my cup of tea. Quiet novels about domesticity are my thing ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Well, then it’s probably a great one for you. ๐Ÿ™‚