When Lucy Foley sends out The Guest List you’ll want to be on it. But make sure you’re near the generator when the lights go out. Calculated, compulsive and churning with intensity.
“Historically, the [cormorant] has been represented as a symbol of greed, bad luck and evil.”
Off the Irish Connemara coastline Inis an Amplorá, namely Cormorant Island as it’s known, is two miles end to end. With its white grains of sand and rippling turquoise cove water it’s the perfect place for a summer wedding. Majestic the granite island may look, however, appearances can be deceptive, can’t they?
Surrounded by a peat bog, legend declares massacred bodies have been claimed beneath. Furthermore, ghosts are said to inhabit the island. For once outnumbering the dead, one hundred and fifty guests are arriving for the wedding of the year, bringing with them a furious storm. Will the guests notice the crooked-winged cormorant on the steeple, the devil’s bird, bringer of death? And will its presence signify an omen for the unearthing of long buried secrets?
‘Life is messy. We all know this…You can’t control more than a single day. But you can control one of them.’
Lovebirds Will and Jules appear to have everything: TV career, successful blog, flat in north London. In addition to their combined success and drive they are, knowingly, the most attractive couple in any room. Determined to kickstart married life accompanied by impressive social commentary, Jules has scrutinised every detail with military precision. Together with her wedding planner – organised, capable Aoife – nothing from the table plan to the sharpening of the cake knife has been overlooked. But Jules is harbouring a secret. Ordinarily composed and controlled, and with no female friends to confide in, she decides to let the ceremony go ahead. But the words of the note posted through her front door won’t leave her. Before the happiest day of her life why has Jules received a warning? And is the writer of the note on The Guest List?
‘…just because we have found a way of managing our feelings – it doesn’t mean they’re not there.’
Adding to the unique experience Jules has cultivated, choppy seas carry boats to the island. Top of The Guest List, Jules’ best friend Charlie and his wife Hannah look forward to letting their hair down. A weekend without the children could rekindle who they once were. Conversely bridesmaid Olivia, Jules half-sister, is troubled, pre-occupied and avoiding the action. Hankering after his school days, best man Johnno seeks groom Will’s undivided attention. But once the ushers arrive, a Trevellyan’s boarding school reunion takes centre stage. Accordingly, the headmaster, Will’s father, oversees proceedings with his stern glare.
As the sun dies, thoughts turn to the big day ahead of them all. Running the island folly with her partner Freddy, Aoife is an expert at orchestrating happiness. So the day should go off without a hitch, shouldn’t it?
‘And then the lights went out.’
Much like their good old days, the ushers and best man control the nuptials through playground bullying and belligerence. With Will at the centre of their games, money and humiliation remain their currency as they endeavour to “raise hell” on Cormorant Island. Washed down with vintage champagne and whisky, it’s all harmless fun. However, with everything hazy around the edges, are the guests as prepared as they think for this next round?
‘…bloody footprints across the laminate, drying to a rusty stain’
Transported to dark corners of the guests’ minds, reader clues are subtle yet persistent. Whether a word or sentence, author Lucy sews such careful threads that straggle-free ends welcome us into the denouement. With such deftly painted imagery to support the action, the atmosphere is thick, heady. From the outset, the colour of death is foreboding – deep red wedding sponge, a crimson wine stain on white table linen, a bright red lipstick. Like the cormorant we circle, awaiting the worst to come.
‘I’m afraid that if I sleep I’ll have dreams like I did last night… It’s the company. It’s this place.’
Reading The Guest List whilst tragic reports spiralled social media and storms raged outside, the novel was brought even more poignantly to life. Shoring up the need to talk about our problems, the guest revelations prove how layered we are, how fragile. A simple word or action (or indeed wordless inertia) from someone we aim to please, can trigger love or pain. Particularly when in pain, we abandon our inner child and release our dreams only to get lost along the way.
Thick with atmospheric tension, The Guest List is addictive. From the blood-red imagery in the opening chapters to the multi-narrative versions of events, author Lucy intoxicates her reader. Moving from the present moment to the past, without once stumbling, worlds collide. Guilty thrills, broken dreams and a world of devastating secrets lie within the walls of this fated folly. And if your name is down, you may not come away with your identity intact.
Already a Times Crime Book of the Month upon its February 2020 release, we highly recommend this read whilst the wind howls. Superb.