Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle left us long ago but Lucy Foley decided not to make bibliophiles like we miss them. That was probably the reason she came up with this masterpiece of a novel named “The Guest List”.
In this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller, reminiscent of the writing style of some of the best mystery authors in the world, we follow a group of guests as they gather on an island off the coast of Ireland to celebrate the wedding of a rising television star and a smart and ambitious magazine publisher.
With that designer dress worthy of nothing but envy, grandiose party themes, and whiskey priced higher than major paychecks, every other detail has been planned to perfection. But as the champagne flows and the festivities begin, petty jealousies and resentments start to surface, eventually culminating into a deadly turn.
And what it was?
You have to read the book to find out.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some book club questions for The Guest List and why it’s a must-read for anyone trying to discover how humans in real life are often better actors than the ones that grace the silver screen.
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The Guest List Book Club Questions
- Jules’s troubled childhood of neglect and feeling like an outsider has driven her obsession with perfection and the need for control. She meticulously plans every aspect of her life to ensure that everything is perfect, and this perfectionism often extends to the people around her as well. Her envy of Olivia’s slim physique and her own past for being teased as a “chubby swot” show her insecurities and the ways in which she tries to compensate for them. Do you think our upbringing has a lot of things to do with our insecurities? Also, how do you think these insecurities affect us in the long term?
- Jules and Olivia’s relationship is strained for most of the novel. Jules is jealous of Olivia’s looks, but this appears to be a displacement of Jules’s envy towards Olivia’s upbringing. However, after everything is revealed, Jules goes to Olivia and hugs her, and for the first time in the novel, Jules appears truly worried and apologetic for everything that has happened to Olivia.
Do you think that this was the moment when Jules realized how important family is?
- Will uses his good looks and charm to manipulate those around him, presenting himself as a driven and successful person. He is able to get away with stealing GCSE test papers and betraying Johnno due to his ability to manipulate others. Jules is initially attracted to him because of the ambition she senses in him, and his golden looks and winning smile are just added bonuses.
When you first got to know about William Slater, didn’t you feel something must be fishy about him? Was there any particular event in the book that added fuel to these doubts of fire?
- Aoife projects a cool and detached exterior that hides her deep well of emotion and anger. Despite her nervousness and anxieties, she appears organized, capable, and discreet. She also uses her appearance to blend into the background and fade into the role of those that seem unimportant.
Did you ever expect Aoife to be the person that is revealed in the latter part of the novel? How do you think she could gel so well in spite of knowing the truth?
- Jules father, Ronan, in spite of being disconnected from her, shows the care and devotion that a daughter seeks from a father. This was proven when he openly threatens Will of the consequences he would face if he ever hurts her daughter. Do you think this wedding was an opportunity for Ronan to mend his relationship with Jules? Coming to general daughter-father relationships, what do you think could be some reasons why sometimes they end up strained?
- Olivia’s character provides a contrast to the wealthy, successful, and seemingly perfect characters of Jules, Will, and their friends. Her struggles with mental health, self-harm, and a traumatic past highlight the darker side of the human experience and add a sense of vulnerability and humanity to the story. Her friendship with Hannah also creates a connection between the “outsiders” of the group, who are not as wealthy or privileged as the other characters.
Discuss three traits that you loved about Olivia and three traits you disliked.
- The novel is structured around the events leading up to and during the wedding of Jules and Will, but it also incorporates flashbacks to the characters’ pasts and includes several narrative perspectives, including those of Jules, Will, Olivia, and Hannah. By shifting back and forth between these different timelines and perspectives, Foley keeps the reader guessing about the true nature of the characters, their relationships, and their motivations.
What’s your take on this multiple-timeline structure? Do you think all thrillers should follow this timeline?
- Aoife and Freddy’s secret relationship with Darcey (an effeminate name that acts as a huge shocker to Hannah) is what ultimately brings Jules and Will to the island, setting in motion a chain of events that culminates into a heinous crime. Similarly, Alice’s affair with Charlie and Olivia’s past trauma are both key factors that contribute to the tension and conflict between the characters.
Do you think these secrets and deceptive appearances are what Foley has purposefully upheld to create a plot filled with curiosity?
- Throughout the novel, there are hints of the supernatural that can appear as a possible red herring. For example, the boat captain’s fear of the ghosts on the island and Aoife’s sighting of the Pooka, a creature from folklore, are both initially presented as supernatural occurrences. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that these occurrences are not actually supernatural but are instead tied to the characters’ pasts.
Coming to paranormal activities, have you ever had any kind of similar experience? If yes, would you like to share it with the group?
- The island’s remote and haunted past adds to the eerie and tense atmosphere of the novel. The fact that the island is owned by a couple who planned to turn it into a popular wedding destination adds an element of greed and ambition in the story. The isolated location, combined with the storm that knocks out power, creates a sense of claustrophobia and heightens the tension as the characters become trapped with one another.
- The portrayal of Will’s groomsmen as a pack of feral dogs highlights the toxic masculinity that is present in the novel. Their aggressive and dominant behavior towards each other and other characters, particularly women, reinforces traditional gender roles and the idea of the “alpha male.” Additionally, the tension and rivalry between the groomsmen, as well as their objectification of women, creates a sense of unease and highlights the damaging effects of such situations.
What’s your take on this?
- Will’s actions towards Johnno in regards to the Survival game and the TV show are motivated by his desire for success and recognition. Will is willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, including sabotaging Johnno’s chances of being a co-host and stealing exam answers to get better grades. He sees Johnno as a threat to his success and is willing to harm him to maintain his position.
How much did you hate Will after this particular event?
- The revelation of Charlie’s infidelity with Jules added another layer of tension and complexity to the relationships between the characters in the novel. Hannah’s discovery of the affair compounded her anger towards Charlie for his involvement in the bachelor party prank. It was also made clear that their relationship was not as strong as she had believed. Jules’ involvement in the affair strained her relationships with both Charlie and Olivia, as Olivia had planned to expose Jules to Charlie.
- The revelation of Will’s past crimes, including the murder of Aoife’s brother, certainly provided a motive for Aoife’s decision to do the unimaginable. However, it is important to note that vigilante justice is not an acceptable form of retribution in a legal or ethical sense. While it is understandable that Aoife would feel a desire for revenge given the circumstances, her actions cannot be justified under the law.
A bit controversial but still a worthy question – if you were in place of Aoife, what would you have done?
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