Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: The Guest List (2020) by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Cut to the chase: Would I recommend reading The Guest List? Sure, it's an easy afternoon read with a twist that has wide appeal from what I've read about the book in social media. For me, I really wan't invested in any of the characters (disliked most of them).  I would say it is good but not great and a mostly enjoyable take on a particular type of mystery (described below). 

As always, if you loved the book and think I got it totally wrong, tell me. 

Links to other (better) reviews at the bottom.

The premise of The Guest List is simple. Guests arrive on Cormorant Island off the coast of Ireland for a wedding held at a renovated manor called The Folly. The bride, Jules, is the driven publisher of a successful online magazine, The Download, determined that this will be a perfect wedding. The groom, Will, is the star of a reality TV show, Survive the Night, where he is left at night, blindfolded and tied up, and has to make his way to civilization. He is also knee-tremblingly handsome to the ladies.

Among the guests are Charlie, long-time friend of Jules and his wife Hannah, Jules' half sister Olivia, and five of Will's mates from Trevellyan, a public school, Johnno, Angus, Femi, Duncan, and Peter. The wedding is managed by Aoife, the wedding planner and co-owner of The Folly. Some of these guests harbor dark secrets that will emerge.

The story is mostly narrated in first person by Johnno, Hannah, Jules, Olivia, Aoife, and Will (toward the end) with some third person narrative bridging past and present events. The bridging chapters are set Now with the personal narratives taking place around Now. I don't mind the shifting voices structure because it allows more to be revealed as the story moves along and it steadily builds tension. I wish there had been another voice, the photographer. This is a wedding and Jules would have wanted lots of images for her publication. I can imagine the photographer moving around, capturing revealing moments.

The majority of the book is building backstory and defining characters. The most sympathetic are Hannah and Olivia. The message is rather pointed: the men are pigs and the women suffer. This really becomes obvious when we experience Will's five mates from Trevellyan. They are all fairly loathsome jerks who revert back to their disgusting schoolboy selves when they get together. The way they act, their attitudes, their  cruelties, goes back to their time at school which they describe as a cross between a prison and Lord of the Flies. This tells you something about their life there — survival of the fittest. I think the author intended them as caricatures of English public school Old Boys. For most of them, it was the best time of their lives. 

The book is compared to some of Agatha Christie's works which is a stretch. It isn't the locked room mystery some have called it; a locked room mystery is both a whodunit and a howdunit. It is in the tradition of English country house mysteries where a group of people bearing dark secrets come together in a remote location where SOMETHING happens. The book has a melodramatic start: the lights go out and there is a scream of terror. 

The author weaves clues for where the story is going within each character's narrations and these clues will come together at the end. About three quarters of the book is taken up with this. The last quarter of the book ups the pace considerably and all the clues are revealed in their proper place. 

The authors strings the reader along and you don't know what happened or indeed if anything happened until the end of the book. The clues dropped along the way are pretty clever, though, and at the end, you realize they they were right there in our faces. I did guess the twist though I confess I mostly didn't see what was going on until near the end. I do think the story relies on a few too many coincidences to come together. The resolution is ok, though it felt to me like the story just sort of trailed off. 

 I liked the description of the island but I kept getting distracted wondering who insured The Folly. The place appears to be a death trap. There are cliffs over a crashing sea, crumbling remains of houses near the manor, a dangerous battlement accessible to the guests, and a bog that will suck you down to join the bodies of inhabitants slaughtered by Vikings if you step off the unmarked path. I can't imagine bringing children to the island and turning them loose. I know I would have been in the crumbling houses and up on the battlement like a shot.

 Smart Bitches, Trashy Books loves it.

Positive review on Book Club Chat,

Another positive review on Read This, Not That. Careful, it does tell you what happened.

Keywords: crime fiction, country house mysteries, wedding mysteries

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