Looking for books that capture the lavish, mysterious, slightly sinister world of White Lotus on HBO? If you loved the streaming show, I have a great book list for you! Here are some Books to Read Like HBOs White Lotus!
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First, what is White Lotus on HBO about?
Did you watch White Lotus on HBO?
White Lotus Season One came out in 2021, and White Lotus Season Two in 2022.
The HBO streaming series is described as “social satire.” It’s not really a thriller, but does have dark undercurrents and is centered around rich tourists staying at an upscale hotel chain called the White Lotus.
White Lotus Season One is set at the lavish White Lotus Maui. In White Lotus Season Two, a different group of travelers (with a couple crossover characters) enjoy a vacation in Sicily.
I’ve written before on the general trend of Travel Thrillers in 2021 and 2022. The first season of White Lotus on HBO came out at a time when many of us were feeling a little stir crazy after the pandemic. Perhaps as we started traveling again, it caused us a bit of collective anxiety.
In any case, will travel thrillers continue to be a trend in 2023? We will see
I liked White Lotus Season One at first, but then felt it went to a very weird place and its discussion of issues of tourism and cultural appropriation felt a bit ironic and tone deaf at times.
So I wasn’t sure if I was going to watch White Lotus Season Two, but then I saw people discussing it online and thought, okay, why not.
I definitely liked Season Two of The White Lotus better than Season One. I thought the Italian setting gave the show a more Old World, sinister atmosphere that I thought worked better.
Show creator Mike White suggests that Season Three might be set in Asia and look at Eastern religions and spirituality, which has me a bit concerned.
Who Are the Characters in The White Lotus Season Two?
Jennifer Coolidge returns as needy, angsty heiress Tanya McQuoid Hunt. Jon Gries (Seinfeld) also returns as her new husband Greg.
The other major characters are:
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec) plays Harper Spiller. She starts off as the show’s moral compass, similar to Rachel in Season One.
Will Sharpe (you might not even recognize him from the excellent Netflix series Giri/Haji) also starts off as Will Spiller, the naive American tourist who made a fortune selling his tech company.
Theo James plays Cameron Sullivan, a very different character from from his role in Divergent. He’s not the nicest guy, similar to Shane in season one.
Meghann Fahy (from the Bold Type) plays Daphne, Cameron’s jaded wife.
Haley Lu Richardson is annoying millennial Portia. Oh, Portia.
F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) is Bert Di Grasso. He’s accompanied by his sex addict son Domenic (Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos) and his college student grandson Albie.
The Italian characters were my favorites!
Sabrina Impacciatore is the closeted thirty-something hotel manager, Valentina.
Beatrice Grannò is aspiring musician Mia.
Simona Tabasco is sex worker Lucia, Mia’s friend.
Tom Hollander is Quentin, a mysterious Englishman whose family owns a Sicilian villa.
Similarities Between Season One and Season Two
Season One and Season Two have some repeated character types. The rich, arrogant dude bros (Shane in Season One, and Cameron in Season Two). The pairs of female friends (Paula and Olivia in Season One and Mia and Lucia in Season Two). The painfully millennial characters (Olivia in Season One and Portia in Season Two). The naive, well-meaning young guy (Quinn in Season One and Albie in Season Two).
Both White Lotus Season One and Season Two felt a bit like HBO’s Big Little Lies in that each seasons begins with a dead body. We’re not sure who it is, and we won’t know until the end of the series.
Books to Read Like HBOs White Lotus
Here are the elements of The White Lotus that I have tried to reflect in my list of Books for Fans of White Lotus on HBO:
1. Americans abroad
Both seasons feature well-off Americans trying to enjoy lavish vacations, but being somewhat thwarted by their own self-absorbed view of the world.
2. A sinister vibe
Though both seasons had a death, I feel that Season Two had a more sinister vibe, which I liked a lot. To me it felt a bit Hichcockian.
3. Fraught relationships
Many of the characters are at pivotal points in their lives. We have newlyweds and people facing medical crises in season one, and a man who is separated from his wife in season two.
We have hotel employees facing crises and life decisions. In season one, the hotel manager is trying to stay sober, while in season two the hotel manager is trying to muster up the courage to come out as gay.
We have people in relationships flirting with outsiders in both seasons. A pair of Millennial frenemies in season one. Marital cheating.
4. Rich people behaving badly
This seems to be a big theme in thrillers and mysteries lately, perhaps driven by the recession. Or HBO might think that their audience likes shows similar to Big Little Lies, Succession or Showtime’s Billions.
Classic Books Like HBOs White Lotus
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (1955)
Patricia Highsmith is the queen of stories like these (you can also check out her book Strangers on a Train.) The Talented Mr. Ripley is a great choice of book for fans of The White Lotus. It’s a psychological thriller about a young American guy who is hired by a rich man to travel to Italy and bring home his son, Dickie. It has all the White Lotus themes: Americans abroad, a sinister feel, complex relationships. If you scroll down, I link to the movie based on the book.
Current Mystery and Thriller Books Like HBOs White Lotus
The Villa by Rachel Hawkins
The Villa has two timelines, one historical and the other in the present, each featuring a group of tourists staying at a villa in Italy. There is a murder in each timeline. You can read my review of the Villa and/or join our spoiler discussion of the Villa.
Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone
A pair of newlyweds takes a trip to Lisbon, but when her husband suddenly disappears, and the police aren’t helpful, Ariel must find out what happened to him. You can read my Review of Two Nights in Lisbon.
The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones
If you liked the creepy, competitive Cameron/Daphne/Will/Harper dynamic of White Lotus Season Two, this is the book for you. The Guilt Trip is about three couples who travel to Portugal for the wedding of one of them. Secrets are revealed, tea is spilled, and things get murderous. You can read my Review of The Guilt Trip and/or join our Spoiler Discussion of The Guilt Trip.
Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
The South Pacific setting of Reckless Girls feels a bit more White Lotus Season One, but the female friendships (or frenemy-ships?) and the bed hopping in this one feels very Season Two. This wasn’t my favorite Rachel Hawkins book, but it definitely has that White Lotus vibe! You can read my Review of Reckless Girls and/or join our Spoiler Discussion for Reckless Girls.
The Weekend Away by Sarah Alderson
Another domestic thriller set in a foreign country, about a girls trip gone terribly wrong. I think the Netflix adaptation of the Weekend Away was probably better than the book, but take your pick. You can read my Review of The Weekend Away or join the Weekend Away Spoiler Discussion.
A Beautiful Crime by Christoper Bollen (2020)
A Beautiful Crime in set in Venice. Nick and his lover Clay are trying to sell fake antiques to a wealthy man from Clay’s past. The book also looks at the negative effects of tourism on Venice. It leans more toward literary fiction than the other books on the list, but definitely has sinister and chilling moments!
Books on Tourism and Cultural Appropriation for fans of The White Lotus on HBO
One of the things Season One of White Lotus touches on is the power dynamics of tourism. Here are a few books that also incorporate that issue.
The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hennings
A man who is the descendant of Hawaiian royalty and white missionaries struggles to keep his family together.
Murder Casts a Shadow by by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl
This historical mystery is set in 1934 and features a reporter trying to track down the stolen portrait of a Hawaiian king.
Iced in Paradise by Naomi Hirahara
Leilani Santiago is back in Kaua’i to help her family run their shaved ice business and has plenty of observations on tourism. When a pro surfer turns up dead, Leilani is on the case.
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
This is a non-fiction essay about colonialism and tourism in the West Indies and definitely worth a read!
Other Movies and Shows to Watch for Fans of White Lotus on HBO
Alfred Hitchcock movies! I’d recommend Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the book by Patricia Highsmith, Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959).
I though the 1999 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley was a good one and the cast is great!
The Night Manager (2016) also stars Tom Hollander and is a good fit for fans of The White Lotus, though it leans a bit more toward a political thriller.
What did you think of The White Lotus? Do you have any other books to add to my list of Books to Read Like HBOs White Lotus? Talk to me in comments!
I haven’t seen White Lotus, maybe I should watch it.
Hi Mary and Happy New Year. Give it a try!
I loved Season 2 of White Lotus! The Guilt Trip and The Villa look fantastic – both have been added to my TBR list. Thanks!
Hi Katie! I thought Season Two was way creepier. That music! That strange head sculpture they kept focusing on. Hope you enjoy the books. Please come back and let me know. The Villa is great if you’re a nineteenth century literary nerd.