Published: 19th March 2020
On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom a rising television star. The bride a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine in a remote location.
As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?
This is the kind of book that uses an effective set-up to draw you in right from the beginning, and fuels a feeling of intense curiosity all the way to the end. It is a murder mystery that keeps you guessing as you discover the motives of each flawed character, uncovering disturbing secrets and unexpected twists, which throw up a whole range of possibilities.
The structure of the story is highly distinctive as it switches constantly between the points of view of all the main characters, making elaborate use of what is ultimately quite a simple concept. It does begin somewhat slowly as the foundations are laid for revelations that come to light later on, but as events play out, it does rather keep you on the edge of your seat.
It all takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland, where Jules, a magazine executive with very expensive taste, has just married Will, the star of a television show called Survive The Night. As the guests are dancing and slices are being cut from the wedding cake, the lights suddenly go out and everyone hears a terrible scream. A body has been found outside.
The story then goes back to events during the day leading up to the wedding. Jules has only known Will for less than a year, but the two share an almost chemical attraction and are very much in love. However, Jules recently received a note through her letter box that warned her not to marry Will, placing a tiny seed of doubt in her mind.
Then again, everyone else on the guest list is also hiding secrets, and over the course of the book they eventually all come to light, with fateful consequences. From the bridesmaid to the best man to the wedding planner, they are all shown to have a motive, and each one of them seems almost equally as likely to end up being the killer.
This sense of anticipation about finding out the identity of the killer, as well as that of the victim, is perhaps the most enjoyable thing about this book. The author keeps you on tenterhooks, stretching things out for as long as she possibly can before allowing the plot to unravel. When the answer finally arrives, it was somewhat unexpected and I did not see it coming.
The same could be said about several of the twists, although there were a couple towards the end which I felt were very unlikely coincidences and therefore a bit too convenient for sake of the plot. On the whole the ending was fairly worth the wait, but there were definitely some aspects of the story that I appreciated more than others, with some of the characters and the tone of the writing occasionally causing frustration.
There are a total of six different points of view, all told in the first person. They all contained their own individual mysteries and provided an interesting insight into each character, magnifying their flaws and providing most of them with a great deal of backstory. Then we have the chapters that take place in the present, dispersed at various intervals throughout the book. These are written in third person and often end with a cliffhanger.
If you are looking for a story with likeable characters, then you will be sorely disappointed here as apart from maybe one or two exceptions, they barely possess any redeeming features. It did not matter so much in this case as the plot was nevertheless intriguing, but I have to admit that the actions of some of the guests made them rather insufferable at times.
Of all the perspectives, Aoife’s was the most unique. She comes across as very measured and level-headed, which contrasts sharply with some of the others, whose insecurities are much closer to the surface. For example, Olivia’s narrative is sad and unsettling, while Johnno is also highly troubled. As for the newlyweds, Jules and Will had such a sense of entitlement that it meant I disliked them from an early stage, and nothing that happened later on served to change my opinion.
I really liked the idea of the setting. It seemed to be the perfect place for a murder mystery; an isolated island with sketchy phone signals and rumours of dead bodies lying beneath the ground. I particularly enjoyed how this was used to generate tension in the chapters that take place after the body is found on the night of the wedding, but I also felt this setting could have been developed even more.
Despite the number of different narrators, the story is relatively easy to follow and the chapters are short, which makes it feel as though you are getting through the book very quickly. This feeling only increases towards the end where the author presents a scenario where all of the potential outcomes seem to be possible.
Overall, this was a good mystery that contains a multitude of perspectives and plot strands that skilfully combine to keep you turning the pages. The majority of the characters are inherently unlikable and the story can hardly be described as upbeat, but there are some great twists and the ending lived up to its promise.
The are a lot of potential triggers in this book that stem from each character’s individual stories., so it would be a good idea to be mindful of them. These include anxiety, self-harm, suicide, and revenge porn. The first half of the book also contains some quite strong sexual content and drug use.
Lucy Foley enjoys travelling, hence the number of exotic locations featured in her writing. The Guest List is fast becoming her most popular novel, having published her debut in 2015, The Book Of Lost & Found.
In between, she has written The Invitation, which was set in 1950s Italy, while her first thriller was The Hunting Party, published in 2018. Foley lives in London.
This book has received a lot of hype and although I did not think it was perfect, the mystery was good and it certainly kept me turning the pages.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5