It almost feels impossible to resist a well-written thriller novel. Whether you prefer domestic books with unreliable narrators, legal works with dramatic court cases or psychological pieces that bend the mind, the thriller genre has novels to suit everyone’s tastes. A good thriller is entertaining and fills readers with pulses of adrenaline as they sift through the red herrings and plot twists.
Every year, the popular reading website Goodreads hosts the Annual Goodreads Choice Awards. In the past, infamous novels like “Gone Girl,” “The Girl on the Train” and “The Silent Patient” have been selected as winners in the Best Mystery & Thriller category of books. In 2020, the title was awarded to Lucy Foley’s “The Guest List.”
The premise of “The Guest List” is mysterious and intriguing. A celebrity and a businesswoman gather their closest friends and family to an island off the coast of Ireland to celebrate their wedding. The cell service is nearly nonexistent, a constant fog surrounds the island and a huge storm rolls in on the night of the big ceremony.
Readers get to experience the story through five different points of view: Aoife the wedding planner, Hannah the plus-one, Jules the bride, Olivia the bridesmaid and Johnno the best man. Each of these characters has a secret, and they are unveiled as the plot unravels. Everyone has a motive to kill someone else on the island, but when someone in the wedding party turns up dead, only one of the five characters is a murderer. Who is it?
A quick scroll through the reviews left by Goodreads users reveals that many of them pitch “The Guest List” as a novel that is reminiscent of the mystery books written by Agatha Christie. Some claim that it’s a modern take on Christie’s most famous novel, “And Then There Were None.”
An article on Book Riot, titled “8 Books Like And Then There Were None” includes “The Guest List,” with a description of the novel that reads, “Foley has carved out a niche as a modern heir to Christie’s locked-room mysteries.”
As a huge thriller lover myself, I’m always a bit skeptical when a new thriller is compared to a classic. One of the best parts of reading a new thriller is experiencing all of the twists and turns as they come, flipping through the pages at a rapid pace to find out who the culprit is.
Reading a modern thriller that has been compared to a classic thriller can be off-putting. On the one hand, if you love the first novel, you can look forward to similar elements and plotlines in the one you’re about to pick up. On the other hand, what if you speed through the novel with growing suspense only to find that the plot twists and villains are carbon copies of the ones in the first novel?
When I chose “The Guest List,” I wanted the ambiance and desolation of an island, but with new, animated characters and shocking plot twists that I couldn’t piece together myself. Since I had already read and closely analyzed “And Then There Were None” for a class, would I be entertained by “The Guest List”? Would I be able to enjoy the best thriller written in 2020, or would it just be another modern retelling of Christie’s notorious novel?
After reading “The Guest List,” it’s evident that, though there are similarities between the two bodies of work, Foley’s book is a separate entity entirely. If you’ve already read “And Then There Were None,” you might be able to pick up on some parallels and similar aspects between the two pieces, but “The Guest List” reads more as a thriller that has been inspired by Christie’s novel rather than a proper modern retelling of it.
The most notable similarity is that both books take place on an isolated island in the United Kingdom. A raging storm hits, and none of the characters in either novel are able to escape the island while the chaotic and terrifying plots ensue. The setting adds to the tension by creating a space where no one can flee from the horror that goes down over the course of both works.
One of the quotes from “The Guest List” that best encapsulates the terror of the secluded setting is, “Except—and perhaps I’m being paranoid—it does seem like she’s changed since we’ve been here. Everything seems changed on the island. It’s as though the place is doing it, that we’ve been brought here for a reason.”
The setting and the storm is where the blatant similarities between “The Guest List” and “And Then There Were None” end. Foley’s characters are well-fleshed out, and none of them appear to be a revamped version of Christie’s characters. They all have their own flaws, their own backstories and their own secrets. Once you find out one secret, it’s impossible to put down the novel because you’ll want to know them all.
An argument could be made that all thrillers share similarities with one another. Red herrings, plot twists, unreliable narrators and creepy settings are all staples of the genre. Many more common plot devices that most thrillers share could be listed, but that would require an entire 100-page list.
At the end of the day, thrillers share common elements, and none are fully original. Many thriller novels draw inspiration from ones that have been previously published. Plus, it’s a savvy marketing strategy to compare a new novel to one that is already popular among readers. It motivates people who loved the first book to pick up the newly published one. But as long as the twists and turns catch readers off-guard and leave them hooked throughout the story, isn’t that enough?
And that’s exactly what Foley manages to do in “The Guest List.” While it may have drawn inspiration from “And Then There Were None,” it certainly wasn’t just a modern retelling of Christie’s book. It stands on its own as a great thriller novel, and it’s one that’s worth reading.