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Review: The Guest List by Lisa Foley

It's been a good bit since I've posted here. Partly work has been extremely busy, but mostly it's that having a kid is an insane amount of work! Everything they tell you about how much work it is (which I doubted!) is true!

Anyhow, for my first post back, I have a review of Lucy Foley's The Guest List.

The Guest List takes place during a wedding held on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. The couple to be married are an online publisher, Julia Keegan, and her groom, reality show survivalist William Slater. Very early on we learn that something bad, possibly a murder, has taken place during the wedding, though we are given scant details. From there the book goes back in time to follow several of the wedding guests in a rotating POV as we see the guests, including the sister of the bride, best man and others arrive on the island and reveal their personal demons.

All in all, The Guest List is fine. It's a well-constructed piece of mediocrity that will probably be optioned for a Hulu mini-series (if it hasn't been already). The characters, if not particularly interesting or likable, are certainly well-drawn. The plot, while not particularly new (and a bit too much like Agatha Christie, as the cover blurb points to), has enough suspense to keep you reading. Yet the very suspense and mystery that is the driving force of the novel feels a bit cheap. Much of the mystery is simply the basics of what happened in the incident referenced in the opening pages of the novel. As opposed to most mysteries that try to explore who committed a murder, The Guest List's primary dramatic question seems to be whether anyone was even murdered at all, and if so, who was the victim.

I think what is so annoying about how the mystery of the book unfolds is how you can feel the author purposely withholding information for no other reason than to manipulate you. Characters narrating in the first person, who we later learn clearly had something else on their mind, are in essence lying or deceiving their own non-existent audience of readers. To be clear, these are not deftly created unreliable narrators in the vein of The Remains of the Day or Lolita. These characters don't deceive out of some deep psychological necessity. Instead, the sole purpose of their deceptions seem to be to help the book along.

By 80% of the way through the book when we finally learn who was murdered, we hardly care anymore. And after a slew of unlikely coincidences, when we learn who the murderer was, our reaction is more of eye rolls than disbelief.

The Guest List is not a bad book. But it is an unremarkable one.


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