Two months ago, it seemed like The Guest by Emma Cline was everywhere and everyone I know was reading it. Thankfully, that resulted in me getting a copy from my friend (thanks, TB!). I had read and liked, but not loved, Cline’s debut novel The Girls, and was a little iffy on the premise of The Guest, but when people told me they couldn’t put it down, I decided to give it a try. It’s about a twenty-two year old grifter names Alex who floats from man to man, clinging to and leeching off of them until it’s time to move on to someone else. The Guest takes place when she has been kicked out of the most recent man’s house in the Hamptons and has to figure out where to go next.
Why I picked it up: Hot book; FOMO.
We don’t learn much about Alex or her backstory. We know that she’s an escort who has fallen on tough times – she’s out of money (having blown through the large amount she stole from a former client), she can’t pay her NYC rent and her roommates have asked her to move out, and she’s currently living with Simon, an older man in his house in the Hamptons. She doesn’t love him (though she occasionally says she does, as if to try out the words and see if they are believable), but he’s her most reliable meal ticket, so she tries to make herself into who he wants. One night, Alex makes a drunken gaffe at a party and Simon asks her to leave and go back to the city. Having nowhere else to go, she spends a week trying to stay afloat until his Labor Day party, when she is convinced he will take her back.
Alex is pretty unlikeable – she steals from the people who are kind to her and has little regard for anyone else’s feelings. She is disdainful of everyone she meets, dismissing them as rich people who deserve whatever comes to them. She makes bad decisions, over and over, and does little of merit. And yet – damn if Cline doesn’t have you rooting for Alex and hoping that she’ll figure out a way to make it to Labor Day and that the (equally unlikeable) Simon will let her stay. Cline is a sharp observer of class dynamics, of the lunacy of extreme wealth and how it poisons people. There are barely any worthwhile people in the book.
This was an almost dreamlike read, and when I got to the end, I thought, “What was the point of that?” Yet it was oddly compelling despite its lack of a moral backbone. Cline has a beautiful ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for detail, and both shined through in The Guest.
I listened to The Guest on audio alongside the print copy. Narrator Carlotta Brentan was the perfect Alex – disaffected, breathy, disdainful, aloof. My only caveat on the audio is that 8.5 hours of listening to Alex’s predicament can be a little long, whereas the book is a pretty quick read.
The Guest was the 48th book of 2023 and satisfies the Book Recommended By A Friend category of the 2023 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.