Thursday, June 20, 2019

Review: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Title: The Guest Book
Author: Sarah Blake
Published: May 2019, Flatiron Books
Format: ARC Paperback, 496 pages
Source: Publisher

An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph.

The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”.

And when the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything—perfect children, good looks, a love everyone envies. But after a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family, year after year after year. And it is there that Kitty issues a refusal that will haunt her till the day she dies.

In 1959 a young Jewish man, Len Levy, will get a job in Ogden’s bank and earn the admiration of Ogden and one of his daughters, but the scorn of everyone else. Len’s best friend Reg Pauling has always been the only black man in the room—at Harvard, at work, and finally at the Miltons’ island in Maine.

An island that, at the dawn of the 21st century, this last generation doesn’t have the money to keep. When Kitty’s granddaughter hears that she and her cousins might be forced to sell it, and when her husband brings back disturbing evidence about her grandfather’s past, she realizes she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life.

An ambitious novel that weaves the American past with its present, The Guest Book looks at the racism and power that has been systemically embedded in the US for generations. Brimming with gorgeous writing and bitterly accurate social criticism, it is a literary tour de force.

My thoughts:  It's no secret that I am a huge fan of multi-generational sagas and so of course I was ecstatic when I won this book from a giveaway over on Instagram...and then to find out that it was selected as a Barnes and Noble's book club selection was just the icing on the cake! To me, that meant it would be chock full of discussion points and boy was I right...this book just begs to be discussed.

I loved this book and while it is a big book, coming in at just about 500 pages, once you start it, you slowly find yourself immersed in the world of this family. Yes, even I had to make myself a family tree to keep the characters straight because there are the same names used over and over again and it does get a bit confusing, but once you get everyone straight, and get into the rhythm of the story, it all starts to come together. This book spans three generations, and so we move with the family as they navigate the decades between the 1930s and the present. There's a lot of drama that goes on in this family during this time, and some of that drama is never discussed after it happens which is a big bone of contention.

The story examines class and status and the consequences of these. It tells the story of one family, The Miltons, and those around them, as they experience tragedies, wealth and the choices they make that have long, unspoken consequences for themselves and others. It shows how families of prominence did not speak of their failings or tragedies - everything went unsaid and the face of the family was perfection...thus the family secrets that were kept from generation to generation. 

I loved how the book alternates between the past and the present and as such we are thrown little bits and pieces of the family's history throughout the story. This little pieces then slowly form the big picture. I found myself completely enthralled and baffled by the characters all at once. Each character is very complex and well written to show that no one is entirely good or bad.  You will definitely have opinions on all these characters, for sure. 

I really enjoyed this book. It's incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully written. It's the type of book you want to take your time reading, rather than race through as there is much to take in, but in the end it is well-worth all the time you give it.


1 comment

  1. I just finished The Postmistress so will have to add this to my TBR list! Thank you for the review- I love family sagas, too!


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