Spoilers ahead for the Saint X book. Hulu’s Saint X follows the same general plot as the 2020 Alexis Schaitkin book it’s based on. Told via multiple timelines, the story follows the aftermath of the mysterious 1990s death of Alison Thomas, an 18-year-old college student who had been vacationing with her family on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. In present-day Brooklyn, Alison’s little sister Claire (who goes by her middle name Emily) becomes obsessed with solving the case when she discovers that Clive, a former suspect in her sister’s death, is living nearby. If Hulu’s adaptation has the same ending as the Saint X novel, expect a divisive series finale.
Though Claire eventually learns that Clive is innocent, she never finds out exactly what happened to her sister. One Goodreads user wrote that Saint X “ends the same way it starts, with us not knowing anything or understanding what is going on.” Another online reviewer, on the other hand, opined that Schaitkin’s debut novel is “more about Claire and Clive’s separate journeys” and making peace with not having all the answers.
Indeed, those were the author’s intentions. “The first chapter sets up the mystery of Alison Thomas’ death, but I hope the reader will quickly figure out that the novel is ultimately less interested in the answer to that mystery than in its fallout for all of these characters,” Schaitkin explained in a 2020 American Booksellers Association interview.
Also an exploration of race and class, she highlighted the disparate ways in which Alison’s death shaped Claire and Clive’s lives, too. “The tension is all about the secrets Claire and Clive are both keeping and about Claire’s slide into obsession,” the author told Entertainment Weekly the same year. “It was some of my favorite material to write, because it’s psychologically intricate — both of these characters are still very much living in the aftermath of this tragedy and everything they lost because of it. But it was a challenge figuring out how to structure it so it didn’t feel static, but sort of relentlessly, stealthily escalating.”
Showrunner Leila Gerstein said she knew she wanted to adapt Schaitkin’s book as soon as she finished reading it. “The novel has textured characters, a multi-layered world, surprises, and themes that intrigue me as a writer and I was so excited to expand on what Alexis had set up,” she told Elle.com of the series, which rappers Drake and Future co-executive produced. “Like the book, the show deals with very real issues like grief, class, race, and culture’s obsession with dead white girls while set in a beautiful location with a great mystery propelling us to the end.”
Though Saint X isn’t officially based on a true story, the ambiguous ending is only one of several similarities to the real-life unsolved case of Natalee Holloway, who was the same age as Alison when she went missing during a senior class trip to Aruba in 2005. As Rolling Stone pointed out, Holloway had been missing for about 15 years — the same time difference between Alison’s death and Claire’s run-in with Clive — when the book dropped. Unlike the fictional victim, Holloway’s body has never been found, but the book’s ending, no matter how unsatisfying, mirrors the reality that some mysteries are never solved.