The Guest Book: A Novel

Written by Sarah Blake
Review by Julia C. Fischer

This is a multigenerational story of the wealthy Milton family in America, from the Great Depression through World War II to the beginning of the 21st century. In the 1930s, Kitty and Ogden Milton are the golden couple with a seemingly perfect life. But when tragedy strikes, Ogden buys Kitty an island and a house in Maine to mend the rift between them. This island will be passed through the generations, and by the beginning of the 21st century, Kitty and Ogden’s granddaughter, Evie, struggles to preserve the crumbling Milton family legacy. In doing so, family secrets from the past are revealed, changing Evie’s perception of her grandparents forever.

While exploring the consequences of this long-held secret, Blake confronts timely themes of privilege and racism in the United States. The content is intriguing, and the characters are well drawn-out and realized. Unfortunately, for this reader, the novel is unsuccessful because of its mechanics. Because I love epic family sagas, I really wanted to like this book, but I found The Guest Book long and tedious. At almost 500 pages, it was often difficult for me to decipher the different storylines; the author bounces around in time and the chapters do not indicate what year we’re in. It thus took time at the start of each chapter to orient myself. In addition, from the very beginning, I disliked Blake’s writing style, which also contributed to the book being difficult for me to get into. While other readers will probably praise the lyrical prose, I found her extremely long sentences distracting and pretentious, and ultimately, they did nothing to propel the narrative forward.