Deceptively simple ... What follows could be read as an entertaining series of misguided shenanigans interrupting the upper class’s summer vacation, but under Cline’s command, every sentence as sharp as a scalpel, a woman toeing the line between welcome and unwelcome guest becomes a fully destabilizing force. And not just for her hosts, but for the novel itself ... Cline’s old-fashioned prose style at times had me in a shimmering state of déjà vu, bringing to mind the nimbleness and nuance of John Cheever, who also captured the rot beneath wealthy suburbia ... More novels should probe the stakes of female performance.
A staple of contemporary fiction is what is called, in writing-workshop terms, backstory, meaning an aspect of a character’s past that is revealed to explain her behavior, much in the way that psychoanalysts seek an understanding of their patients by excavating buried traumas. Ms. Cline generates an impressive amount of intrigue by the simple method of cutting backstory out entirely. Apart from Alex’s trouble with her ex, we know nothing of her background ... Ms. Cline’s writing thrives in the pure present. The descriptions are frequently bracing and acute, sharpened to icepicks by a stance of amoral neutrality. But as the story becomes more plotted and Alex’s deceptions come to a head, The Guest runs out of steam, finishing with an anticlimactic non-ending. The difficulty in depicting a cohesive larger picture plagued The Girls, as well, though the problem is less marked here, as Ms. Cline has come closer to finding an ideal novel form that recognizes neither past nor future but passes as Alex tries to live, 'in some alternate universe ruled by immediacy.'
Cline has written a thriller about trying to get by, a summer read for the precariat. It’s a novel driven by the suspense of what it takes to survive—a suspense that can take the pleasure out of anything, even a day at the beach ... Alex is a quiet heroine—almost like a mist of a person, barely there ... Cline does a pitch-perfect job of keeping Alex’s understanding of herself in sync with the reader’s. We are deprived of much of her backstory because Alex is someone who prefers not to dwell ... Cline avoids a simplistic eat-the-rich story on a number of levels ... Cline has written a beach read for the people who clean up once the party is over.
The way [Cline's] writing is hospitable to the senses represents the highest form of thinking ... Cline puts her fearsome talents to work depicting the deeply destructive capacity of a lone mind that is utterly sick of itself. Like a writer, Alex has an exacting gaze, a cold heart, and too little tact ... Alex notices so much that it literally hurts to read. That’s the pain of seeing the world through another’s eyes. Mere exposition or analysis would seem shriveled compared to the full force of these feelings ... She ruins herself as readily as she ruins lovely things. Cline trusts readers will understand why.
A quintessentially American tale, a smoldering thriller that explores desire and deception from the point of view of an escort named Alex ... The plot is stretched tight over a single week, which feels, to Alex, alternately fleeting and endless. We follow her with a mixture of thrill and dread as she lurks around the island ... Cline writes in a sleek, cool style that conveys both Alex’s naivete and her mirthless irony ... Cline stays outside but very close to Alex’s point of view, catching the syncopated rhythms of her poise and panic. In these precise sentences, we see a young woman always looking simultaneously outward and inward.
[Cline] writes so sharply about the uncertain contours of women’s wanting that the effect is one of compelling, almost pleasurable edgelessness ... Her new novel, The Guest, proves Cline has become adept at portraying the eager heat of lust — not necessarily for sex, but for power and comfort — with cool insouciance ... A quixotic new entry in the millennial grifter canon ... If it all sounds a bit Cheever-y, that’s seemingly by design ... Is it possible for a novel to be heavily erotic without being at all sexy? A lot of seduction occurs throughout the book, but hardly any of it pulses with real pleasure ... Atmospheric and at times incandescent.
Cline...writes prose that is clear, steady and restrained, surveying the pleasures and idiosyncrasies of extreme wealth with cool specificity ... Alex's circumstances are sorrowful, but Cline still manages to find humor, particularly in the way Alex, unimpressed, sums up the people she deceives ... As Alex's reckless decisions bring her closer and closer to peril, Cline maintains this intriguing balance of detached certainty and growing fear.
The Guest has a deceptively simple premise, and its achievement is to wring much nuance, tension and contradiction from it. It is a novel of precarity and excess ... Cline uses the metaphorical possibilities of water, pools and beaches deftly. These are conspicuous leitmotifs that, because of their symbolic richness, never feel overdetermined ... Contradictory impulses enrich a character who is both insightful and naive but also strangely spectral and blank ... Cements Cline’s place as one of America’s great contemporary stylists.
Cline plays with the metaphor of invisibility, which Alex expresses figuratively through her dissociation. She does not have a clear sense of what is going on inside of her, which means she is incapable of being empathetic to the feelings of others ... Cline’s skill with language, shimmering insights into complexities of womanhood and class, and knowing turns of phrase are not enough to transform this overdone tale, the self-sabotage of a young woman, into something bold or unique. The narrative shape follows its expected and worn-in contours, its ending inevitable.
The Guest’s internal contradictions are precisely what make it so galvanizing and so utterly readable. The reader, who ingests the novel’s sumptuous atmosphere and the thrill of trespass captured in Cline’s sharp, tense prose, is implicated alongside the protagonist.
Deeply unpleasant ... Cline is skilful and observant ... I was puzzled by why Cline leaves Alex so unmoored. Does she want to show that sometimes there is no reason for a person to act badly? ... Please could Cline write another novel as good and insightful as The Girls.
The Girls was exceptional; The Guest, with its exquisite pacing and deliciously muddled moral compass, is even better ... Compulsively readable, with an antihero for the ages at its centre, The Guest is as refreshing as a dip in a cool pool on a hot day.
The Guest is the...controlled work of a fine talent maturing on its own terms. Sultry and engrossing, with a note of menace, it’s a gorgeously smart affair whose deceptive lightness conceals strange depths and an arresting originality ... One of this novel’s pleasures is how it keeps setting up such expectations only to confound them, so that even halfway through you’re not entirely sure what kind of story this is, save a good one ... Without smothering her narrative in subtext, Cline gets at something universal – or at least late-capitalist – about the prostitution of experience and the commodification of sex and personality ... You don’t have to read The Guest as a slant treatise on neoliberal precariousness and alienation, or as an even broader one on metaphysical estrangement – but it’s all there should you want it. Or just take it to the beach and savour every page.
Many will buy The Guest, then, but I’m not sure many will finish it. It’s a 15-page character sketch stretched to novel length; soon, even Cline herself seems bored. The first few dozen pages are undeniably impressive, as bracing as saltwater ... Unfortunately, Cline’s gift for physical description cannot sustain 304 pages. As the opening – a delirious recollection of a bender – gives way to the main story, the dialogue becomes painful, the efforts at psychology heavy-handed ... Nothing of consequence ever follows from anything, scenes petering out more by exhaustion than design ... No character becomes surprising, or even convincing ... Cline seems torn between minimalism and the plot-driven, romance-plot demands of a bestseller, and not to have decided either way; the effect is less evocative than merely evasive.
This novel explores the gritty, sometimes salacious side of young womanhood and coming into one’s femininity in a world where being desired by men can bring both danger and power. I think that the strongest part of The Guest – other than Cline’s signature immersive writing style, which reminds me of a movie by one of the female Coppolas – was its magnification of the interplay between female identity and male desire.
Alex could so easily be written off as a gold digger, on top of being messy, toxic—any number of things—but Cline won’t have it that way. There is a sinister subtlety sprinkled throughout The Guest in the prose and interactions people have with each other ... That quiet desperation follows Alex at every move she makes. The Guest takes a hard look at how someone could fall into that trap, following the emergency exit procedures she’s been taught all along—waiting again and again for them to finally work.
Provocative ... Cline has a keen eye for class differences and makes Alex into an intriguing protagonist who has learned to be observant, but must also recognize she’s losing her judgment if she wants to survive. Like watching a car crash, this is hard to look away from.
Cline does pretty-but-creepy like no one else and now takes her brand of alluring ickiness to the wealthy enclaves of Long Island ... The riveted reader watches helplessly as her mistakes pile up and the sense of imminent disaster steadily soars, humming in every sentence ... A propulsive read starring an irresistible antihero.