The Guest List
By Lucy Foley
Published in 2020
Julia Keegan, a young magazine publisher, and Will Slater, an up-and-coming actor are getting married on a secluded island off the coast of Ireland. The guest list is exclusive and the wedding promises to be talked about for years to come, if everyone survives. Despite perfection in the wedding planning, soon after the cake is cut, someone will be dead.
There are several POV characters in this novel, and the action flips between the wedding night when a body is found and the day leading up to the wedding.
Julia said “yes” to Will’s proposal after only dating him for a few months. She’s a hard-driven, competent and ruthless business woman who took a blog to a full-fledged online magazine in only a few years, so making a rush decision of this magnitude is unusual for her. But when you find the right man, why wait? She wants the best and the wedding venue on Cormorant Island promises that. So who sent the note only weeks before the wedding warning her not to marry Will? And should she heed it?
Johnno, the best man, has known Will since their boarding school days. The wedding gives him the opportunity to reconnect with other school chums in the wedding party. But even in their thirties, Johnno is the odd man out, the only one who hasn’t turned his life into a success. He can’t seem to get out from under the grip of a horrible secret from when they were young. It’s ruined his life, why hasn’t it bothered Will?
Olivia, Julia’s half-sister, is the only bridesmaid in attendance. She’s always looked up to her older sister, even though she knows Jules is jealous of the relationship she shares with their mother – a relationship that Julia never had. But if Julia knew the truth, if she understood why Olivia feels dead inside and that life is too difficult to continue living, she’d never forgive her.
Hannah attends the wedding as her husband Charlie’s plus-one. Charlie and Julia have been best friends since they were teenagers, but their relationship is troublingly close. Does she have reason to worry? Add to that the odd tribalism the ushers and best man fall into as soon as they get together, her husband’s penchant for drinking, and her worries over the troubled Olivia (who reminds her of her lost sister), and the weekend can’t end soon enough for Hannah.
Aoife is the polished, professional wedding planner who allowed Jules to book the island on a discount. In part to launch her event business, held in the Folly she owns with her chef husband, and in part to banish the idea that the island is haunted by the long suffering dead. It’s time to bring the living back to the island, and banish her own ghosts.
The novel started off fairly slowly with the lights going out near the end of the reception. There’s a storm raging outside the marquee and the guests are cut off from the mainland. Great set-up, except that the “current” chapters are written in omni POV (complete with the feel of a narrator) and I found it difficult to connect with them. But once the author jumped back into flashbacks beginning the day before the wedding and getting a bit deeper into the individual POVs, my interest picked up. Every character is chased by past ghosts and insecurities and Foley does a great job weaving everyone’s backstory together, bringing them all together in an impressive six degrees of separation. The jumps between the reception and the individual POV chapters come closer and closer together as the book nears its conclusion and works really well to raise the tension.
I have to give a round of applause to any author who can write a mystery and keep my guessing who both the victim and the murder are until the end (or very near the end). In that respect, this novel didn’t disappoint.
My one real complaint about this read, aside from the fact it was a little slow to start, was the addition of two chapters in Will’s POV. They were unnecessary and I felt like the author was trying to “explain” things to the reader – things I could have easily worked out on my own. Considering the fact that another POV character was present in these two chapters, she didn’t need to insert Will’s POV at all. In fact, I felt like using Will’s POV was simply convenient and actually lowered the tension just when it should have been ratcheting up.
Of all of the characters, I preferred Hannah. Possibly because she was a mother and a bit of an outsider in the wedding party and I was able to relate to her the most. However, every character was chased by their own ghosts and by the time all of the backstories were woven and the bad guy in every story was revealed to be the same person, it was fairly obvious who the victim was. What I didn’t expect was the murderer and was honestly taken by surprise. More astute readers might have figured it out sooner.
I will admit once I got about a third of the way into the book, I was hooked and finished this one in a day. Which was a relief since I’ve gone through several books recently that I set aside after 20 or 30 pages because the story didn’t grip me. Life is too short to read books you don’t find interesting.
I rated this book 3.5 stars (rounded up on Goodreads).
Until next time, thank you for visiting.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.