The Guilt Trip (Book Review)

Although all the marketing information indicates that The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones is a mystery/thriller in the vein of Lucy Foley’s The Guest List, it reads more like a soapy social drama. Normally, that would be fine; unfortunately in this instance, the characters are too thinly drawn to support a character-driven story.

What’s it about?

Rachel’s brother-in-law is getting married in a little villa in Spain, which feels like the perfect opportunity for a couples’ getaway for Rachel and her husband Jack. Rachel’s lifelong best friend Noah was invited as well, and is bringing his wife Paige—also a close friend of Rachel’s—and it would be ideal… if everyone didn’t hate the bride-to-be so much. Everyone is at each other’s throats, and eventually violence erupts.

What’d I think?

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Mild spoilers throughout.

This is one of those books that I pushed through in a single day because while I could force myself to keep reading, I wasn’t confident in my ability to pick it back up. Reading inertia is real. This resulted in a somewhat painfully long day in which I wanted to grab Rachel by the shoulders, shake her, and scream “Why are you so stupid?”

Here’s the thing. Rachel seems to have been conceived in the vein of Amy from Gone Girl or Rachel from The Girl on the Train. She’s not a reliable narrator, and she’s not really a good person. She’s overemotional, she has secrets, and she often has the wrong take on things. However, she’s not nearly as subtle as those other narrators. It takes no effort whatsoever to wade through The Guilt Trip’s Rachel narration and determine what she has right and what is bullshit.

The disconnect between how Rachel perceives the world and how it actually is blatantly doesn’t line up from the start. Look at Paige. Paige calls herself a feminist and Rachel seems to back her on it, and repeatedly calls Paige a good person and friend, but Paige either fatshames or slutshames literally every other woman in the novel and repeatedly badgers Rachel about her relationship with Noah. And Rachel’s husband Jack gets nothing but free passes when he acts like an asshole and offers clearly dishonest explanations for his explosive overreactions. So forgive me for not taking all Rachel’s character assessments at face value.

Seriously. The only two characters I could stand were Will, the clueless but otherwise inoffensive groom, and Ali, the much-despised bride. Rachel, Jack, Paige, and Noah can’t go more than a few paragraphs without calling Ali a skank or a homewrecker or a pathological liar, but if you pay attention to what Ali actually does instead of what Rachel and her buddies claim she does… there’s nothing wrong with her. The critiques of Ali stem entirely from sexism and jealously; Ali is exuberant and sexy, and she wears tight, low-cut clothes. That’s pretty much it. The lengths to which Rachel bends over backwards to pretend that Ali is some sort of demon are pretty ridiculous, and they served more to turn me against Rachel than to shape my opinion of Ali.

I’d say it’s a classic case of show-don’t-tell, except that if Jones had showed us Ali being a horrible person, all the quote-unquote “twists” at the end wouldn’t work.

But let’s put all that aside. It’s a big ask to put that aside, but let’s do it anyway. The primary meat of the novel doesn’t have anything to do with the violence or the twists or even Rachel’s almost comical inability to judge character. The majority of the novel is about the interpersonal drama between Rachel, Jack, Noah, and Paige. The setup is that Rachel and Noah have been bffs forever, but now they have their own spouses and both couples are close. I suspect you know where this is going, because all books go this way.

If you said that Rachel and Noah are secretly in love with each other and/or once had sex… no prize for you because I don’t give out prizes for easy guesses.

Seriously. That is the least creative avenue Jones could possibly have gone down. It pisses me off, too. I’m so sick of the idea that people can’t possibly have an intimate relationship with someone of the opposite sex without wanting to sleep with them. Just once I want to read a novel about a man and a woman who are close lifelong friends without the whole thing being about how much sex they wish they were having. Seriously, it is SO annoying.

It’s made even worse by how everyone harps on it over the weekend. Imagine you’ve been married for twenty years and have an adult child. You’ve been very close to another couple the whole time. Now imagine you’re going on a getaway with your spouse and this other couple. Would you start harping on about how men and women can’t be friends and that your husband must have slept with the woman in the other couple? Probably not. Like, at the beginning of your relationship, sure. We’ve already established that Paige is a sexist who sees all other women as competition. It makes sense that she’d initially see Rachel’s relationship to Noah as potentially threatening. But after twenty years? You’d think that worry would eventually corrode or ruin the friendship. I couldn’t keep that level of suspicion up for that long. No part of me believes that it would have taken this long for the suspicion to bubble up to the surface.

A lot of buried feelings come up over the weekend for no apparent reason, which is annoying. They just all decide to start obsessing about Rachel and Noah’s relationship after having been cool with it for years, and then all the usual things come out of that: did Rachel pick the wrong man, is it worth staying in their current marriages if they still have feelings for each other, is the paternity of Rachel’s son in question, and so on and so forth. It’s such a boring, overdone storyline and Jones does not throw a single surprise into it. There’s nothing in this book that you can’t see from a million miles away, except maybe what the violent incident is going to be. (There’s never any question of who is going to do it, just what it is and when it’ll happen).

There’s so little substance in this novel. I saw a goodreads review that said it could/should have been a short story and I heartily concur.

The Guilt Trip is a swing and a miss for me. The characters are thinly drawn but immensely unlikeable. The twists are predictable, not because they’re badly written but because Jones took the most obvious direction every single time. I felt like I was reading the same few points (“Ali is a liar,” “Rachel and Noah slept together once,” “Rachel thinks Ali is sexually harassing Jack,” “Jack hates Ali,” “No one can tell Will anything about their suspicions because a ruined wedding is worse than a terrible marriage” (which is a hot take, to put it lightly)) over and over and over again, with no new information or angles ever revealed.

The Guilt Trip isn’t necessarily a bad book. It’s just award-winningly bland. There is absolutely nothing new or exciting in it, in either a good way or a bad way.

What’s next?

Want a light mystery that’s more about the interpersonal drama? Liane Moriarty is a great writer for that. Most people would probably suggest Big Little Lies, as that’s her best-known novel, but I’m going to recommend The Husband’s Secret. It was the first Moriarty novel I read, and it’s still my favorite. Big Little Lies is great, though.

Looking for an unreliable narrator in a terrifyingly twisty mystery? As I mentioned above, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train are hugely popular for a reason.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley has a similar premise to The Guilt Trip, but is far more highly regarded. I’ve not read it yet, but since so many people are saying that The Guilt Trip is trying to be The Guest List, I feel warranted in including it here.

Interested in a book about an older woman who is entertaining doubts about her choice of husband? Both Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon and Landline by Rainbow Rowell do a better job of bringing nuance to that scenario.

If you actually liked the cringey affair-with-my-childhood-bestie-and-also-there’s-trauma, you might like The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller. I hated it, but if you’re a fan of affairs and pseudo-mysteries, you might give it a try. It has the same ‘men and women can’t be friends’ thing going on.

If you want to read a book about an affair that’s actually good, I recommend going back to the classics like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. This wasn’t always a stale plotline, and the greats can actually do something with it.

This is my first Sandie Jones book, but from everything I’ve heard it’s one of her worst. People tend to prefer The Other Woman, so maybe try that.

gif credit here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s