Not sure what to read anymore? Are all of your days blending together in a gray blur, as if highlighters no longer had neon ink but dull? My “Read it in a Day” book recommendations are for whiling the day away.
Title: The Guest List
Author: Lucy Foley, who has the kind of name I wish I had.
Release Date: 2020 Reese’s Book Club edition
Genre: Isolated island thriller
Describe it in a sentence: A bunch of privileged guests with money and secrets gather on a gloomy Irish island for a wedding.
TV/movie character who would like it: The cast of Lost, who would say, This is nothing!
Books about entrapment. Books where characters are dealing with the idea that there is no way out, no way off this ride. I bet it’s no surprise that books like this are particularly fascinating to me right now (cough: quarantine). I like seeing what happens to people, how their personalities change, when forces are closing in on them. I guess you could call them “claustrophobic books,” though they needn’t take place in elevators. It’s almost like they’re preparing me for what my life could be like this winter as the temperature drops lower and lower and I can’t leave (Lucy Foley let me know if you need inspo for a new horror novel).
Currently I’m reading Tina Brown’s brilliant biography of Princess Diana, called The Diana Chronicles. After the wedding, it sinks in that she’s really going to have to spend the rest of her life with these stodgy people and their stuffy rules, so old that dust would come up if you blew on ’em. Naturally, she freaks out.
The characters in The Guest List don’t have to spend the rest of their lives on that tiny island off the coast of Ireland, barely inhabitable. But they do have to spend the rest of their lives with themselves. And based on the revelations in this carefully plotted mystery novel, that’s enough of a shame. The setting, an island so small you can walk the circumference, separated from the mainland by a rough passage, complements the almost spiritual claustrophobia of secrets. They can’t run from themselves any longer.
The Guest List has whiffs of HBO’s Big Little Lies (rich people behaving badly, plus a timeline that goes back and forth) and Agatha Christie (a medley of voices, any of whom could be the killer). It’s the kind of book you can read in one day, and be happy you did—I was totally surprised by the ending, making the race to the finish worthy. OK, maybe not totally, but pretty much surprised. It still gave me that longed-for jolt of attention: I should’ve known!
Here’s the deal. This obnoxious couple insists on planning a destination wedding even though the destination is universally inconvenient for everyone, themselves included. They’re these kind of people: “But it’s all about the moment, a wedding. All about the day. It’s not really about the marriage at all, in spite of what everyone says.”
They want to have a “special” and “unique” wedding. Based on the baggage and secrets on both sides of the wedding party, their wedding would’ve been “special” and “unique” everywhere (and I use those words in exactly the tone you think I’m using them). But thanks to the rough terrain of the island that stormy night, the party becomes…dun-dun-dun: Homicidal.
Foley lets the story unfold in the voices of multiple characters (and potential victims and suspects): The bride, the plus one, the best man, the wedding planner, the bridesmaid, and the body. Foley’s writing flows effortlessly and easily—deceptively so. Since the characters are all speaking in first-person, if you read too fast, you might mss what they’re saying. Pay attention and it’s totally possible to see the ending coming toward you like headlights in the fog.
Naturally, I had to cast all of these characters. Except for the body—no spoilers. Here are my deranged castings:
- The bride, Jules, is a media tycoon so I pictured her as Stella Bugbee from The Cut.
- The plus one, Hannah, is skeptical of all of the people at the wedding. I saw her as the English actress Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley).
- Johnno is the best man. I imagined him as the mix of an ex and the actor Daniel Mays (who is in White Lines).
- Olivia the Bridesmaid is absolutely Xanthippe from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Dylan Nicole Gelula).
- Aoife the wedding planner had to be someone foreboding and austere. She is Harriet Walker, queen of stern and sly old women.
- The groom, Will, is smug TV host of an adventure show. I pictured him Jack Whitehall in hiking gear.
- Charlie is Jules’s bestie. Due to the overwhelming stickiness of Lost, I can only picture people named Charle as Charlie from Lost.
I think I also liked this book because it was skeptical of all the same things I’m skeptical of: Namely, blowout weddings for couples who only just met. My antenna is always up when that happens IRL, but it was fun to have the chance to be freely judgmental. I guess that’s another lesser-acknowledged virtue of reading. Judge away. Characters can’t have their feelings hurt when you roll your eyes at them.
Are there any claustrophobic books that have spoken to your current situation? Or are you reaching for the opposite kind of book now—travelogues and escapist fantasies? Let me know!