The Milton’s are a powerful old New York family – the kind of family that used to run the world. And in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton seem to have it all: an elegant apartment on the Upper East Side, two beautiful little boys, a love everyone envies. When a tragedy befalls them, Ogden comforts Kitty the only way he knows how – they go sailing, picnic on a small island off the coast of Maine, and buy it.
For generations the Milton’s of Crockett Island revel in a place that is entirely their own. But it’s 1959, and the world is changing: Ogden’s firm hire a Jewish man, Len Levy, who earns the admiration of not only his boss, but his boss’s beautiful young daughter. When Len and his friend visit the island, the Milton’s principles and prejudices are challenged like never before.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the family money has run dry, and the island is up for sale. Returning for one last visit, Kitty’s granddaughter uncovers disturbing evidence about her family’s wealth – and realises she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life.
If you like a sweeping, multi-generational family saga then you should definitely be checking out ‘The Guest Book’. The Milton’s are a powerful and rich New York family and this is their story, beginning in 1935 with Kitty and Ogden and taking us right up to today where we meet their great-grandchildren.
‘The Guest Book’ is a hefty tome, just under 500 pages, but I devoured it, utterly enthralled by the Milton’s. Their lives are so unlike my own that I became fascinated by them, there is no way I will ever earn enough money to be passing an island and just decide to buy it like they do. This was pure unadulterated escapism for me.
The opening chapter set in 1930’s New York sets up the saga beautifully. A horrific thing happens to Kitty and Ogden and the event just made my blood run cold. It’s brutal and shocking and causes un-ending ripples throughout the Milton’s lives. Sarah Blake has a wonderful talent for setting a scene, there are so many wonderfully descriptive passages, creating superb imagery that makes you feel like you’re right there.
It goes without saying that with this kind of read there are secrets. And in this one there are some whoppers! In any other book I may have said there are too many but it works in ‘The Guest Book’ and I think that’s because it’s such an epic read with many pages. A big part of why I devoured this so quickly was because I needed to find out how it worked out for everyone, I came to really care about the Milton’s and I was a little lost when I said goodbye.
The story is told from a few different view points and the timeline jumps from past and present. At first I found this quite confusing and jarring, but as I went along and got to know the characters I found it easier to follow the narrative. I feel there would have been a benefit to the chapters either having a date or a character name as titles just to stop the confusion. If you do read this book, please don’t abandon it and let the jumping timeline put you off! Trust me, the book quickly gets easier to follow and you are rewarded with a great story.
‘The Guest Book’ is evocative, emotive, addictive and heartbreaking. It’s a richly satisfying read that I didn’t want to put down.
‘The Guest Book’ is out now in hardback, published by Viking. With thanks to the publishers for my reading copy.