Summary and book reviews of The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

The Guest Book

by Sarah Blake

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake X
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
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  • Published:
    May 2019, 448 pages

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Book Summary

Sarah Blake's triumphant novel tells the story of a family and a country that buries its past in quiet, until the present calls forth a reckoning.

A lifetime of secrets. A history untold.

No. It is a simple word, uttered on a summer porch in 1936. And it will haunt Kitty Milton for the rest of her life. Kitty and her husband, Ogden, are both from families considered the backbone of the country. But this refusal will come to be Kitty's defining moment, and its consequences will ripple through the Milton family for generations. For while they summer on their island in Maine, anchored as they are to the way things have always been, the winds of change are beginning to stir.

In 1959 New York City, two strangers enter the Miltons' circle. One captures the attention of Kitty's daughter, while the other makes each of them question what the family stands for. This new generation insists the times are changing. And in one night, everything does.

So much so that in the present day, the third generation of Miltons doesn't have enough money to keep the island in Maine. Evie Milton's mother has just died, and as Evie digs into her mother's and grandparents' history, what she finds is a story as unsettling as it is inescapable, the story that threatens the foundation of the Milton family myth.

Moving through three generations and back and forth in time, The Guest Book asks how we remember and what we choose to forget. It shows the untold secrets we inherit and pass on, unknowingly echoing our parents and grandparents. Sarah Blake's triumphant novel tells the story of a family and a country that buries its past in quiet, until the present calls forth a reckoning.

One

THE FALL HAD TURNED to winter and then back again without conviction, November's chill taken up and dropped like a woman never wearing the right coat until finally December laughed and took hold. Then the ice on the black pathways through the park fixed an unreflecting gaze upward month after month, the cold unwavering through what should have been spring, so that even in April, in the Bowery in New York City, the braziers still glowed on street corners, and a man trying to warm his hands could watch the firelight picked up and carried in the windows above his head and imagine the glow traveling all the way along the avenues, square by square above the streets, all the way uptown and into the warm apartments of those who, pausing on the threshold to turn off the light, left their rooms and descended in woolens and furs, grumbling about the cold—good god, when will it end?—until it turned without fanfare one morning in May, and spring let loose at last. All over the city,...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Evie teaches her students that "history is sometimes made by heroes, but it is also always made by us. We, the people, who stumble around, who block or help the hero out of loyalty, stubbornness, faith, or fear. Those who wall up—and those who break through walls. The people at the edge of the photographs. The people watching—the crowd. You." Do you agree with her? How do the characters in this novel shape history? And whose history do they shape?
  2. Central to Paul's academic work is the idea that "there is the crime and there is the silence." How does that statement echo throughout the novel, specifically in his and Evie's conversations about the stumble stones in Germany? How is that silence a kind of willed ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Guest Book.
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Central to Paul's academic work is the idea that "there is the crime and there is the silence." How does that statement echo throughout the novel?
I found this piece of the book very timely, as there has just been in the news more discussion of American companies who took advantage of the war and Nazi investments. - matchmaker

Elsa tells Mrs. Lowell, "[I]t is a mistake to think news happens somewhere else. To others. The news is always about you." Do you agree?
The news generally has an effect on all of us in one way or another, as long as we pay attention and do not hide our heads in the sand. - dianaps

Evie teaches her students that "history is sometimes made by heroes, but it is also always made by us.” Do you agree with her? How do the characters in this novel shape history?
Yes, of course we each make our own history, good or bad. The characters in the book had their own opinions about life and the Island. Later generations had to determine what to do with the Island and what might be the after effects to their ... - marthas

How did Moss's optimism set him apart from the other members of his family? How did it turn out to be his fatal flaw?
Moss was such an idealist about everything in his life. Maybe he was just born in the wrong generation. I see him as a hippy in the 60's. Realism was his downfall. - dianaps

How do Moss and Reg differ in their beliefs about race relations in America? Whose belief system did you think more accurate, and whose did you relate to personally, if either?
Moss didn't seem to relate to life as it was around him. He had little regard to what others thought or felt. Reg, having traveled, saw it for what it was and had to navigate his world the best he could. - dianaps

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Three generations of intriguing women. An exclusive family-owned island off the coast of Maine. Lives of privilege versus lives without. A strict sense of matriarchal duty. Secrets. Regrets. All elements that draw me in for a good read. All elements in Sarah Blake's The Guest Book. An artfully written book with fresh and vibrant descriptions; some characters are imbued with such passionate joy and hope that I felt I was walking beside them (Sheryl M).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review Members Only (587 words).

Media Reviews

Bustle
Spanning three generations of Miltons, The Guest Book deserves a spot on your summer TBR in 2019.

Entertainment Weekly
An American epic in the truest sense…Blake humanely but grippingly explores the heart of a country whose past is based in prejudice.

NPR
The Guest Book proudly owns the appeal of an old-fashioned sweeping storyline, and in so doing, complicates many of its characters beyond their shallow first impressions. In fact, one of the most engaging characters here defends the essential human yearning for a good story.

Publishers Weekly
Blake has a particular knack for dialogue; she knows exactly how to reveal the hidden depths of the characters both through what is said and what is unsaid. The result is potent and mesmerizing.

Booklist (starred review)
Tacking between the present, in which Kitty and Ogden's grandchildren may not be able to hold onto 'the Island,' which defines their legacy, and the fateful summer of 1959, when the Milton kingdom is infiltrated, thanks to the younger generation, by two inquisitive men, one Jewish, the other African American, Blake deftly interrogates the many shades of prejudice and "the ordinary, everyday wickedness of turning away".

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This novel sets out to be more than a juicy family saga—it aims to depict the moral evolution of a part of American society. Its convincing characters and muscular narrative succeed on both counts.

Author Blurb Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
Sarah Blake is such a beautiful writer she can make any world shimmer, but The Guest Book is particularly fascinating?an intergenerational exploration of memory, identity, love, and family loyalty?of what it costs to inherit a name, a place, and a difficult alignment with history. Powerful and provocative storytelling.

Author Blurb Jessica Shattuck, New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle
I loved The Guest Book. Sarah Blake has managed the extraordinary feat of writing both an intimate family saga and an ambitious excavation of the subterranean currents of race, class, and power that have shaped America. This is a vivid, transporting novel, written by a master conjuror of time and place.

Author Blurb Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank and Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Sarah Blake's powerful, beautifully written story portrays a couple's secret choices that come to haunt succeeding generations. The Guest Book is richly atmospheric and morally compelling in a way that stirs the mind long after the last page.

Reader Reviews

Marie De

Begs for Discussion
This is a generational novel brimming with social criticism, pointing out sins and injustices of the past and questioning what can be done about the past. What is the point of studying the past if we can neither change it nor learn from it? How ...   Read More

Florrie Cooper

Captivating tale with unforgettable characters
The lives of three generations of Miltons spanning most of the 20th century on the Eastern Seaboard sometimes appalls, always intrigues, and never bores. Grappling with personal tragedies and triumphs set within the context of a cosmic shift in ...   Read More

Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)

The Guest Book
This book tells the story of a family through the times of life. I enjoyed every bit from start to finish. I find that the longer it has been since I have finished it, the more I appreciate and think about it. The characters (there are many) are ...   Read More

Esther L. (Newtown, PA)

Not To Be Missed
Thank you to BookBrowse for sharing this wonderful book with me. It was beautifully written and the characters were human and deeply compelling. The book follows the Milton family through three generations from 1935 until the present. Kitty and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Islands of Maine

Sheep raised on Nash Island in MaineSarah Blake's The Guest Book is set predominantly on a private island off the coast of Maine owned by the Milton family. There are roughly 3,000 islands in Maine's territory, some that are popular vacation spots, others that are entirely uninhabited.

Islands like Chebeague, Vinalhaven and Mount Desert are some of the most popular vacation destinations, and also have relatively sizable year-round populations. Chebeague is located just 10 miles from Portland and features beaches, scenic hikes, blueberry patches and the Chebeague Island Inn. Vinalhaven is a 2 hour ferry trip from Rockland and contains the largest year-round population of all the Maine islands. Popular tourist sites include the swimming quarries, nature preserves and the ...

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