Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Source of book: I own this.


This was this month’s selection for our “Literary Lush” book club. One of the things I enjoy about this club is that I end up reading interesting books that I never would have discovered on my own. This book certainly qualifies. I don’t read much genre fiction, although I do enjoy a good mystery once in a while.


The Guest List is a mystery, in the general tradition of the British murder mystery, although without a detective. The isolated island, the multiplicity of legitimate suspects, and the question of who the victim would be reminded many of us of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was, believe it or not, my first experience of the murder mystery genre as a kid. Although there were similarities, and the book wasn’t bad, it did not rise - in my opinion - to the level that Christie’s best works attained. 


The basic setup is that there is a destination wedding on a remote Irish island between a reality television star and a magazine editor, both too impossibly perfect for anyone to actually like them. The guests include a number of people from the past - friends and relatives of the bride and groom - who have reasons, known and unknown, to hate them. The book refuses to reveal who the victim is until near the end, although it is telegraphed pretty well. Likewise, most of the major twists seemed a bit obvious as I was reading it, in part because of how contrived it seemed to make the victim connected to so many people. 


The book also seems as if it might be the author’s hate letter to entitled Public School kids. (Note to Americans: in England, a “public school” is what we would call an exclusive private boarding prep school, such as Eton or Harrow. Or Hogwarts.) The groom and several of his buddies graduated from a certain school, where the groom’s nasty father was headmaster. It becomes clear that something unsavory went down there, and that event led to later events, which now reverberate through the years. And that is why we have a murder which a long list of people at the wedding would have been motivated to commit. 


This also leads to one of the other disappointments in the book. The villain is really one dimensional. On the one hand, he is the epitome of a certain kind of entitled narcissistic jerk. (Like a certain ex-president in his youth…) The guy whose good looks and charm enable him to get away with anything, with zero consequences. Which, I get it - his type does exist. However, despite all the major characters getting a chance to narrate sections of the book, the victim never shows any sort of human side. He’s all flaw. 


The other characters are drawn better, at least. A couple are sympathetic, although most are not the most savory of characters. Again, this is in line with the “entitled public school jerks are horrible” theme. The female characters are definitely the ones you would want to hang out with, not the men.


I don’t generally quote much from books like this, but I thought I might at least note this line, by the bride:


And so much of this wedding business, I have realized, is about how things appear. 


I have performed at a lot of weddings, and, yes. That’s all too true. Some weddings are genuinely happy and joyful. And others have various undercurrents, from religious differences to family feuds, to bridezillas. But, as long as the appearance is good, the show goes on, right? 


I read this in a couple days while on a beach camping trip, and it was fun for a beach read. The pacing is brisk, the use of multiple viewpoints works well, and parts were definitely creative. It could have been better, but it wasn’t a waste of time. As a few of us speculated, we as a club might have appreciated a bit more literary writing style, or more character depth. 


I won’t reveal any more than that, because of spoilers. 



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