Sarah Blake’s The Guest Book is a beautifully written and emotionally captivating novel about one family’s bonds, secrets, and their lifetime of privilege and high society coming to an end.
Beginning in the mid-30s, the novel follows the lives of socialites Kitty and Ogden Milton and continues with their children and grandchildren to contemporary times. After a horrific tragedy in which Kitty loses one of her young sons, Ogden purchases an exclusive estate on an island off the coast of Maine to reconnect with his wife and reinvigorate their marriage.
His plan works as Kitty ultimately snaps out of her shock and misery and falls in love with their new home. But their elite lifestyle, particularly the racist attitude they thinly hide beneath the surface, ultimately haunts the family in the ensuing years. Kitty rejects a plea from a Jewish refugee to keep her young son on the island, a Jewish man attracted to one of her daughters draws their scorn, and a black friend is never fully accepted into their midst, as his missing name in the guest book attests.
The novel alternates narratives between Kitty, her daughter and granddaughter, as each generation develops deep affection for the island getaway and their upscale lifestyle. But as the family’s money begins to run out and rising costs just to maintain the island become overwhelming, the only solution appears to be selling the island. Only Kitty’s granddaughter fights to preserve the family getaway and its family secrets.
Blake’s evocative writing creates a poignant snapshot of a lifestyle of high society, privilege, and elitism slowly being washed away by a changing society, the fight for equality, and decency.
Thanks to Flatiron Books for providing an ARC of this book.