Title: The Guest Room
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Format: eARC, kindly provided
by the publishers for review.
My rating: 2.5 - 3 / 5
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.
When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.
In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.
-- As seen on Goodreads
*I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. This didn't influence my opinion in any way.*
The Guest Room has all the ingredients for a fabulous fast-paced mystery/thriller while shedding light on sex slavery and the devastation it causes to those unfortunate enough to be caught up in its web. Instead of feeling like I read something enlightening and enthralling, I feel a bit underwhelmed and disappointed. It sucks that I feel this way, as in theory, I should love this book! It took me a lot longer than I expected to get my thoughts in order to write this review properly, and it’s mainly due to being very conflicted about how I feel about the book overall. (Just for clarity sake, this is the first book I’ve read by Chris Bohjalian, and I have next to no knowledge about any of his previous works.)
I’m not going into specifics of what happens in the story – I think the synopsis covers it perfectly. The book begins with a bang, and the first 25-30ish% was completely awesome. It was vibrant, action packed and fast paced, and I had started to think I’d found a new favourite read. Shortly after the 30% mark, though, the pacing took a severe nosedive, and my interest and connection to the story went along with it. Actually, all the issues I had stem from the middle of the book, up to about the 92% mark. Honestly, I found it dull, boring, and repetitive with the story dragging on for far too long. I understand the slower pace is needed to help build up some tension and suspense, but for me, it only caused my attention span to completely wither, and I found myself wishing for the story to hurry up and get on with the action.
The narration shifts mainly between two characters: Richard, and one of the sex slaves, Alexandra. If we were reading the book entirely from Alexandra’s POV, I could see myself rating this book a lot higher. However, the majority of the story revolves around Richard and his family woes. See, I have a problem with this. I thought this was supposed to be a thriller. Aren’t thrillers supposed to be, well, thrilling? I don’t suppose it helped that I’d branded Richard an idiot from very early on in the book, did it? I mean, he brought all of this on himself. He knew his brother was an unreliable sexist twat and that Phillip’s friends were even worse, yet he still thinks it’s a great idea to host a bachelor party in his own home. Yep, only rainbows, kittens and unicorns can come from that decision. Also, some of my disappointment could stem from my expectations going into the book. Like, you tell me a book has Russian human traffickers, and two of the sex slaves manage to escape by attacking their captors and hacking one of them to bits, right? Just based on this, my expectations are on a different level. Exploring family issues being the dominating focus of the book doesn’t really come anywhere near my thought process! For my tastes, the focus was on the wrong characters. I had zero sympathy toward Richard, so personally I wouldn’t have minded him disappearing into the background and the focus of the story being solely on Alexandra, Sonja and Crystal – the real victims in this tale.
I have to address the elephant in the room, and that’s human trafficking and sex slavery. While Alexandra’s POV helped to create a lot of sympathy within me for her cause, I feel these very important issues were brushed aside far too flippantly in favour of Richard’s family problems. While I’m sure he’s suffering for causing his marital issues, he had a choice. He made the wrong choice. Alexandra and every other girl in the story that was beaten, raped, sold, used and discarded never have one single choice. Their voices were not fully heard. And that doesn’t sit very well with me.
I’ve been hovering back and forth between a 2.5 or 3 star rating, and I really think my true feelings lie somewhere in the middle. I’m going with the full 3 stars, as I did genuinely like the first chunk of the book, and it was those moments that kept me going right to the end. Overall, yes, I did like The Guest Room, but I do feel it missed quite a few vital opportunities that left me frustrated and disappointed.