The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Wedding from hell…

🙂 🙂 🙂

When domineering and narcissistic Jules is getting married to handsome and charming TV celebrity Will, she wants her wedding to be glamorous and unique, so she books The Folly, a newly refurbished old house situated on a small, isolated island off the coast of Ireland. But when the guests begin to arrive, we soon learn that many have secrets, and long-hidden tensions and resentments will soon come to the surface as the drink starts to flow…

The blurb of this and many reviews are comparing it to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, so I’ll start by saying it’s not comparable, either in plot or storytelling. This isn’t a deranged seeker after justice gathering together a group of potential victims – rather it’s a group of victims, one of whom will take revenge against another. The mystery is all in which of the damaged and bitter people will be the one to break and who will they kill? And, of course, in order to create “tension”, the author keeps all their past secrets hidden until near the end, merely hinting dramatically at them throughout.

The trend of “that day” novels surely must be approaching its end now. It feels increasingly tired with every new “thriller” that comes along. In this one, nearly every character has a “that day” incident in their past, reminding me of why wedding receptions should never be held in remote places where there’s no easy escape route for the few sane, sober guests. Not, I hasten to add, that there are any sane, sober guests at this wedding. From Aoife, the wedding planner who hints regularly at some tragic incident that has resulted in a well tended grave in the grounds of The Folly; to Jules’ half-sister, Olivia, having dropped out of university over some shattering experience involving an unspecified man; to Helen, married to Jules’ oldest friend Charlie and suspicious of their relationship; to Johnno, the best man, and the ushers – all school friends of Will and all constantly hinting at a terrible incident that happened back in their schooldays; every single guest is portentously weighted with emotional damage.

Lucy Foley

It sounds as if I hated this and I didn’t, really. As what it is, it’s reasonably good – it’s simply that there have been so many of these identikit thrillers that I don’t see much point in them unless they’re real stand-outs, and for me this wasn’t. It relies hopelessly on piling up coincidence after coincidence until it loses any pretence at credibility, and frankly becomes a bit laughable. However, it’s well written, and, while I couldn’t really believe that anyone would build a wedding venue on an island that gets cut off in storms and is full of deadly bogs, quicksands and underground caves, Foley does use this unlikely setting well to develop an atmosphere of menace. Initially her characterisation is quite good too – she ranges through multiple narrators (of course) and their voices aren’t always distinct from one another, meaning that the chapter headings telling the reader who’s speaking are essential, but each has an interesting story to tell, even if they tell them at glacial speed. Gradually, as their stories are revealed, it all becomes overly dramatic and the characterisation dips a bit, but despite it being grossly overpadded as is standard with current crime fiction, it mostly held my attention and kept me turning the pages. I may have suspected the dénouement would be, as it was, unconvincing, but I still wanted to know how it all turned out.

So, not really my kind of thing but I enjoyed it enough to make the time spent on it worthwhile, and I’m sure it will work better for the many avid fans of this type of thriller, who I hope will not be deterred by my lukewarm, subjective review.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, HarperCollins.

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53 thoughts on “The Guest List by Lucy Foley

  1. I’m not a thriller reader but your ‘that day’ comment brought to mind the runner through the woods in Scandi TV crime series, also the dog in the woods in Morse adaptations, my current comfort watching. Might as well have a neon sign over their heads!

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  2. There’s been so much publicity about this and I have been wondering about picking up a copy – you’ve convinced me not to. As you say there are just so many books like this around at the moment and unless they’re really first-rate I’ve reached the point where I can’t be bothered.

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    • I know there must be a huge market for them since publishers churn them out daily, but I find the whole genre so tired now. Somehow police procedurals provide more room for believable plots and don’t have to have quite so many emotionally damaged characters!

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  3. I read the Hunting Party as well as while the format was pretty similar to this one, I think it Hunting Party pulled it off better, because we didn’t really learn much about the killer’s motive until they’d actually committed the murder.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it, though.

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  4. I have to admit I wasn’t a fan of The Hunting Party, so wasn’t tempted to pick this one up. As you say, it does seem a bit of a tired format, and authors are almost infuriating in the way they don’t disclose really quite important details to keep the mystery element going.

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    • The whole “that day” thing has been driving me mad for years now – it’s such a lazy way to try to build tension. I kept meaning to try The Hunting Party but never got around to it – don’t know how this one compares but it does sound pretty similar…

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      • Additional element of The Hunting Party which annoyed me no end: all the privileged Oxbridge background and really rubbish superficial friendships and stupid rivalries (and I say this as someone who had a very close-knit group of friends during my Cambridge days and still am very close to some of them).

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        • Yes, I think that’s another problem with this type of thriller – everyone has to be so unpleasant and untrustworthy, and in real life most of us aren’t. Admittedly, in real life most of our lives are too dull to be the plot of a thriller too! Thankfully… 😉

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  5. I’ve really gone off contemporary thrillers over the last few years, and I’m also becoming increasingly fed up with multiple narrator stories. Where and why did this trend start? Having said that, stories about posh people in exotic locations are a guilty pleasure of mine for some reason, so that part of the novel appeals to me in a strange kind of way. If I ever run out of books, (highly unlikely), I might remember this.

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    • There have been so many of them over the last few years and they’re all hyped up as if they’re something new, when it’s actually quite hard to distinguish between them. I quite often have to re-read the blurbs before I write my reviews because they fade from my mind so quickly. Haha, the location was exotic, if boggy, but these people were rich rather than posh – common as muck, most of them! Except the snotty public schoolboy ushers… (Sometimes I wonder if I’m a snob… 😉 )

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  6. I’ve been hearing about this one, FictionFan, and the comparisons to And Then…. Hmm…The premise sounds like a good one; weddings really are a place and time where tensions can have a real impact. But I’m getting a little tired of the ‘that day…’ motif, too. It does make me think about weddings, though. Perhaps eloping is the smarter idea… 😉

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    • I get annoyed at comparisons to the greats, especially when the books don’t compare! Haha, it did remind me of some awful weddings I’ve attended over the years, though happily most of them didn’t end in slaughter! Though sometimes I almost wished they did… 😉

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    • I do find this type of thriller has got very tired now, but I know loads of people still love them. I always hate when a book has to rely on hiding “that day” information to generate any kind of suspense… *grumpy face*

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    • Haha, yes – it’s OK if you only get invited to the evening do, but these all day things are too much! So imagine the fun of being cooped up on a storm-tossed boggy island for days… *shudders* Still, at least there’s usually cake… 😉

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    • I suspect people who like this type of thriller will be much more enthusiastic about it than me, but I do find this style very tired now – hard for an author to come with anything original…

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  7. Read a similar sounding one: The Unwanted Guest, recently. it kept me turning the pages but that’s it. None of the characters interested me and their backstories weren’t great either, so this is definitely not for me.

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    • That’s what I find about most of these contemporary thrillers – I find them all so similar that I can never remember one from the other after a few weeks. They fill in a few hours, but that’s about all… and there are plenty of books out there that do that better.

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  8. I think I’d be lukewarm on this one, too. Having recently re-read And Then There Were None, perhaps I’m just being a harsh judge. Still, it seems to me that “that day” thrillers have run their course in popularity (we can only hope), and publishers soon might start down another path. (Personally, I’m predicting LOTS of pandemic-type novels, ha!)

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    • I do wonder about the popularity of “that day” thrillers – it seems to me more and more bloggers are saying they’re tired of them and yet the publishers keep churning them out, so I suppose there must still be a huge market for them. But I do get fed up with blurbs making unrealistic comparison to the greats! Haha – I never, ever, ever, want to read a book about a pandemic ever again!! 😉

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  9. To start with, I’m not a wedding person (we eloped and both of our girls had Las Vegas weddings), so that part of the premise would possibly drive me crazy (a short trip these days, according to my husband). Still… it sounds like it might be a fun book to pass some time with. That said, I’m not rushing off to add it to my wishlist. 😉

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    • Ooh, an elopement! I always think eloping sounds like much more fun. I never could see the point of a huge wedding unless you happened to be so rich that money was no object – young couples spending thousands on a party when they have so many demands on their money seems crazy! And would probably make the actual marriage feel like a bit of an anti-climax… 😉

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  10. Nothing compares to ‘And Then There Were None’!! I’ve read a few modern thrillers, where I couldn’t help chuckling (at places where it certainly wasn’t the intention). This one didn’t really appeal, even before I read your review.

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    • Grrr, I do get annoyed when blurbs claim comparisons with the greats, especially when the book doesn’t live up to it! Haha, yes, sometimes the plots go so far over the top it’s impossible to take them seriously any more – and all these hidden secrets! Their lives are way more interesting than mine… 😉

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  11. The way you reviewed this book really made me think this is how I feel about so many thrillers out there nowadays. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, because I obviously do ( I keep returning to the genre!) but I do feel it necessary to point out how formulaic they seem to be. As you saw in my latest review, I basically congratulated the author on not using an unreliable narrator! So that’s what takes a book to be successful these days, not falling into the common traps other authors seem to be doing…

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    • Haha yes, it’s the small things! 😉 I do think it’s a pitfall of reading so many new releases. When I was younger I could never afford hardbacks so had to wait sometimes for months for the paperback version, and by then you’d got a good idea from feedback of whether the book was worth getting. I think that meant I read fewer new books but enjoyed them more overall.

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  12. I always find it frustrating when publishers try to compare modern thrillers to the classics such as And Then There Were None because everyone knows that they won’t deliver the same thrill in any shape or form. I haven’t read anything by this author but was really taken by the premise of this book and added it to my TBR list a few months ago. It’s a shame to hear that it didn’t quite deliver but at least it was a decent read. I may have to leave it for a later time before reading though. Brilliant review!

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    • Thank you! Yes, I don’t know why they make these false comparisons because it surely just leads to the “wrong” type of reader reading them and then slating them in reviews. But don’t let me put you off this one – I’m so fed up with this style that my reviews are almost always negative. Three stars from me for one of these thrillers is almost high praise! 😉

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