The Guest by Emma Cline
Emma Cline’s previous novel, The Girls, was a massive hit although I never read it. But I was interested enough based on reviews to pick up The Guest which is an archetypal summer read (assuming we ever get a summer here in the UK).
Alex is in a spot of bother. She’s essentially an escort who tends to also be something of a freeloader and something of a grifter. The setting of the book is somewhat opaque – but mentions of the “city” and “upstate” tend to make me think of New York City and mostly, the Hamptons.
Alex is dodging calls and texts from Dom. It’s not completely clear to us what she did to Dom, but she’s got herself into a new place with the wealthy Simon. She spends her time on the beach, and then drifting between social events where she’s accompanies Simon without giving away too much about herself. Obviously, the fact that she’s in her twenties and he’s in his fifties, means that there isn’t a complete veil over things, but as long as she minds her Ps and Qs, things are just fine.
And then they’re not. As easily as she entered Simon’s life, she has now been pushed out, with an upcoming visit of Simon’s teenage daughter precipitating things. With no money, and an angry ex- getting sending ever darker messages, Alex needs to use her wits to duck and dive within the moneyed community where she has found herself.
So instead of taking a train back to the city, she decides that she will lie low for a few days and wait for Simon to come to his senses.
What follows is series of encounters and situations, where the street-smart Alex uses here wiles to ingratiate herself with whoever she meets. She’s normally just looking for somewhere to spend the night, maybe find some prescription drugs or other trinkets that won’t be missed by a homeowner, and ideally a pool to spend the day by. All of this in a society from which she feels otherwise excluded.
We’re not quite in Patricia Highsmith territory as the stakes are a bit lower, although there are definitely allusions with her Tom Ripley character. But Alex is much more listless. She’s only really looking as far ahead as the end of the week, and not really beyond the summer season out by the beach, never mind the next season or next year. Everyone she meets she manages to somehow leave burnt.
I did enjoy this for the most part, although I’m not alone in feeling that the ending wasn’t quite what it might have been. But in the sense that the book is almost entirely told from Alex’s dream-state, it does slightly work.
Sweet Little Lies by Karin Nordin
Sweet Little Lies is a tightly told tale based in a small American town where fifteen years earlier, Lexie’s sister Amber was murdered on the night of the local High School’s prom. In the present day, having been through the various legal complexities over the years, Lexie’s former boyfriend is finally just days away from being executed for Amber’s murder.
But of course, the true story of exactly what happened that evening back in 2007 has not yet properly come out. And Lexie has never managed to move on from the tragedy. She still lives in the same town, having a menial job at the very school she and her sister had attended alongside many of the other locals who have not drifted away from the town in the intervening years. Lexie’s mother is now an alcoholic, and does not shy from having preferred her dead daughter to the one who survived.
It seems that the whole town in some way blames Lexie for having a psychopathic boyfriend who murdered her sister.
But the question is, did he really do it? And if he didn’t, can anything be changed before the execution date in just a few days’ time?
This is a rapid read because it’s a proper page-turner. The various characters we’re introduced, as well the sub-plots, red-herrings and other things, mean that you’re never entirely sure where the book is going. One particular twist did catch me out, even though it was all there for me to see – which is quite satisfying in a way.
A novel to keep you guessing until the end.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC. The ebook is out on 8th September, and the paperback is out on 23rd November.