Book Review: The Guest by Emma Cline

Tense, palpable, and addictive.

Emma Cline is the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls and the story collection Daddy. The Girls was a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was a New York Times Editor’s Choice and was the winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. Cline’s stories have been published in The New YorkerGrantaThe Paris Review and The Best American Short Stories anthologies. She received an O’Henry Award and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review, and was chosen as one of Granta‘s Best Young American Novelists.

Cline’s writing is always a rare treat. I enjoyed her last two books, The Girls, being my favorite, and, Daddy, a book of short stories earlier this year, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her second novel. The Guest isn’t like anything I’ve read before. It’s tense and uncomfortable, leading the reader through a series of bad decisions as the protagonist, Alex, navigates the Hamptons one summer after being dumped and left at the train station by the older man she’s dating. Described as, “a cipher leaving destruction in her wake,” Alex lives a parasitic existence, bouncing from one person to the next, relying on the kindnesses of others to pass the time.

I felt somewhat conflicted while reading this book, finding Alex detestable while at the same time I was completely hooked, curious how her story would end. The scenarios she found herself in where cringe worthy but I couldn’t put the book down, immersed in the affluent world described by Cline. A world where people leave their shoes unattended on the sand, purses on towels, and car doors unlocked while at the beach, assuming everyone out there was like themselves. A place Alex finds easy to navigate, and people who are effortlessly manipulated. I enjoyed the fast pace and unpredictability of the scenes as she met random people, using them until Simon’s Labor Day party when she could make amends and he’d take her back. Hopefully. Cline has a talent for building and describing a world with characters so rich and relatable it’s difficult to stop reading. Adding to the tension was her last ‘relationship’ in which a man called Dom was actively stalking her, even threatening her, adding to the suspense until the cliff-hanger ending.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy underlying suspense, complex characters, and addictive prose.

Published May 16th, 2023


Summer is coming to a close on the East End of Long Island, and Alex is no longer welcome.

A misstep at a dinner party, and the older man she’s been staying with dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city.

With few resources and a waterlogged phone, but gifted with an ability to navigate the desires of others, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts like a ghost through the hedged lanes, gated driveways, and sun-blasted dunes of a rarefied world that is, at first, closed to her. Propelled by desperation and a mutable sense of morality, she spends the week leading up to Labor Day moving from one place to the next, a cipher leaving destruction in her wake.

Have a book club?

Here are some little extras from the publisher including the playlist created by Emma Cline for the novel. Have fun book friends! Download here and enjoy.

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