The Guest List takes place over two days, with an alternating timeline between these two days and multiple perspectives. It follows the events of a wedding on an isolated island and is a thriller mystery.
Julia (Jules) and Will are getting married, on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland. Julia picked the wedding venue for it's exclusive and isolated nature as Will is a minor celebrity and they want their day to be private and special
Some of the guests are coming the night before the wedding for a special dinner, those are the guests "nearest and dearest" to the bride and groom, and include the wedding party, the bride's parents and the hosts of the venue who are doing the catering.
The day of the wedding arrives and the weather is terrible, the wind is howling and a lot of the guests get seasick on the trip over to the island. Due to the nature of the timeline we only see snippets of the wedding right up until about the 75% mark of the book, at which point one of the most well executed twists of the book forced me to put it down and say "what the fuck?" about five times before I could continue reading.
During the course of the wedding one of the servers from the reception comes in and says she's found a body and then faints, the ushers/groomsmen all go out into the foul weather in search of the body. This is intermingled with chapters of the drama between the guests, the past events that haunt them and the present eerie nature of the venue coupled with the howling wind and the foreboding landscape with the bogs that threaten to suck people under the earth.
The Characters and the Writing
There's quite a list of characters who all have their own individual POV so I'll list them below:
Julia: the bride, very controlling and perfectionist, doesn't particularly like her family or the groom's ushers, especially the best man.
Will: the groom, a successful TV star who stars in a Bear Grills-esque show where he gets dumped in the middle of the wilderness and must find his way back to civilisation/a five star resort where his crew is staying.
Johnno: the best man who has a drinking problem and smokes weed in order to sleep, he seems haunted by his past and feels inferior to his other private school mates who are all varying degrees of professionally successful.
Oliva: the bridesmaid and Julia's half sister, who has recently gone through a terrible break up and is having a really hard time. Julia doesn't seem very sympathetic to her at all. (CW/TW for self harm/suicidal ideation in Olivia's chapters).
Charlie: One of Julia's oldest friends and her "best person" and the MC for her wedding. (An absolute prat, actually)
Hannah: Charlie's wife who is (rightfully) a bit miffed at Charlie for being so attentive to Julia and basically ignoring Hannah.
Aoife: the wedding planner.
With such a huge cast of POVs you would think this book would drag on or become confusing but honestly once I was about two chapters in I was hooked and I didn't get confused at all. Each POV had a distinct voice with their own character traits and dramas which made the chapters fly by and easy to read.
Lucy Foley excels at writing immersive, interesting characters that you want to know more about even if they're utterly unlikeable (like Johnno) or depressing to read from (like Olivia). I loved the way Foley interweaved all the POVs to create a cohesive story, and the switching back and forth in time was a master stroke, especially since you were only flipping back and forth between two days and they met precisely in the middle. That was exceedingly well done and I was so hooked on this book that I stayed up until one in the morning to finish it.
The chapters are fairly short in the beginning and tend toward the shorter side as the book progresses, creating a sense of urgency as you race toward the end of the book to find out what the server saw and what happened.
What didn't work/what I didn't like
The ending felt a little rushed and a couple of the "twists" seemed very convenient and almost too perfect, however it did all make sense and nothing was thrown in there without thought, there were no plot holes as such but it just felt a little too neat.
The lack of justice and fairness in the ending was a bit disappointing too, but I suppose that's life. No one is owed a fair go. It was an interesting way to wrap things up and it reminded me a little of Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key.
What I loved
Honestly, Foley's writing and ability to write such a huge cast of characters and POVs without them all sounding like the same character was absolutely brilliant. Foley is a superb writer in this format and excels at the multi perspective, dual timeline thriller. Her ability to shock me was fantastic too as I often predict the major twists in thrillers before they happen. I didn't see quite a few of them coming but the foreshadowing was so subtle that looking back I saw the subtle threads that tied everything together. I don't often reread thrillers but I would quite like to reread this one and see if I can spot clues I missed.
If you liked The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, or The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware then you'll love this book.
There were a lot of confronting topics in this book so be aware of a trigger warning for self harm, suicidal ideation, drug use, and child abuse.
Overall I gave The Guest List 4 out of 5 stars.