The Guest List by Lucy Foley: A Review

Illustration by Barry Pyngrope

Inspired by her Irish roots and Agatha Christie’s style of a “locked room mystery”, Lucy Foley sets her newest book on a remote island off the coast of Scotland, where the only inhabitants are a couple with a gorgeous event venue and gravestones of past residents. 

 

Told from multiple points of view and in a twenty-four-hour timeline, this book is set apart from various who-dun-its as the reader follows each character’s inner monologue to figure out who the killer and killed are. The Guest List starts with a dead body at a wedding, and the different perspectives of the wedding party in a 24-hour timeline before the death leaves intricate bread crumbs for the inevitable set of plot twists. 

 

Foley writes this book in a “secluded murder-mystery” style, similar to her previous successful book The Hunting Party which was again inspired by Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None.

 

“a storm is raging. It shrieks around them.”

 

Illustration by Barry Pyngrope

 

This atmospheric thriller carries the reader into a lavish wedding hosted on an eerie island. The setting is haunting and memorable, contributed partly by the history of the island, partly by the weather and partly by the eccentric people. The book, the setting and the base plot was written in the format of a classic thriller, which Foley modernized through the glitz and glamour her characters possessed. The groom is an actor and the bride a famous fashion website creator.

 

Though the premise of the book was widely anticipated, it was a contrast to the characters who are naturally unlikeable. They bring to the island their luggage, messy secrets, jealousy and vengeance. With a toxic predatory culture, a “boys will be boys” attitude that seems to have settled in their lifestyles (even in their late 30s), and where the notion of bending the rules seem to be their go-to anthem, none of the characters have any development throughout the book. Readers will just have to love to hate these playground bullies. 

 

“The rituals, the male bonding. When we get together there’s this kind of pack mentality. We get carried away.”

 

The unpleasant and distasteful nature of the characters adds to the essence of the book with Foley’s fast-paced writing style, short chapters that end in cliffhangers and clues. Foley does a neat job at world-building, giving a vivid description that gives the readers a good sense of the place. Like most stand-alone books that need a lengthy amount of world-building narration, Foley innovatively still delivers this through specific character monologue narration; each short chapter delving deeper into the scenic atmosphere of the book.

It is not too descriptive, and anyone with a sense of imagination can see how Foley coherently delivers a thriller that has a perfect number of twists and turns, compared to recent thriller releases with only one or two major plot twists, and where the wilderness does get under your skin. 

 

The author brings a new engaging book to the thriller genre with the rare derive of the multiple points of view, delivering this appealing read through her knowledge as a fiction editor and inspiration from a trip she took in her native country to an island called Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Connemara, Galway in Ireland, where half her family is from. The book won the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery/ Thriller in 2020 and was shortlisted for the 2020 Irish Book Awards under the category of Crime Fiction Book of the Year. 

 

The Guest List gives a clear sense of the outcomes of forced proximity when worlds collide in an isolated and difficult place to escape. With the cold season right around the corner, this slow burn and chilling thriller is one to pick up. 

Author: Michelle Syiemlieh

Michelle Syiemlieh is a Staff Writer. She is a graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She enjoys reading, fashion and cooking, and loves her dogs.

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