A gripping social thriller from the author of ‘The Girls’
In Emma Cline’s latest novel, The Guest, Alex is 22 and has no one looking out for her. She’s the titular guest of the book, a drifter and a grifter without a home or a friend. But she does have wits and beauty, two things she’ll leverage in a bid to survive in the East End of Long Island.
Alex finds herself there while on the run from an ex-boyfriend. She’s also moving on from a career in sex work that has informed her manner of navigating the world around her. So when she meets the older and wealthier Simon, she knows just how to reel him in, and quickly molds herself into his ideal version of a girlfriend. One mistake, however, and Simon is sending her packing. Alex sees an opportunity six days from then to get back in Simon’s good graces, but she’ll have to use her seasoned skills of manipulation to survive off others in Long Island for that long.
Cline has a compelling writing style that completely immerses us in the privileged and phony world of the East End, although she never paints a full picture of who Alex is. That’s intentional, however. The third-person point of view combined with Alex’s calculated thoughts about her surroundings create a distance between the character and the reader. We don’t know fully who she is–because not even Alex knows.
Alex’s experiences as a woman, a sex worker, and part of the lower class have all inextricably informed the masks she wears for any given situation. She picks Simon, for instance, in a calculated manner. She molds herself to his desires, then proceeds to mold her own desires to complement the life she’s created with him. In manipulating those around her to suit her needs, she’s also manipulating herself.
It’s no coincidence that the first time she truly acts on her own desires, she’s seen as stepping out of line and is cast out of the world she wants to be part of.
In the midst of its clever class commentary, The Guest maintains a strong sense of foreboding in Alex’s unorthodox survival story. Cline’s novel is a fascinating character study of someone who doesn’t know who she is–and doesn’t care to find out. All of this makes for a gripping psychological and social thriller about the conflict between genders, generations, and classes.
Our thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced reader’s copy. The Guest by Emma Cline will be published on May 16th. You can preorder the book here.
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Verdict - 9/10