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The Night Guest [Hardcover]

Fiona McFarlane
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Jan 2014

In an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, Ruth - a widow whose sons work abroad - lives alone. Until one day a stranger bowls up, announcing that she's been sent by the authorities to be Ruth's carer.

At first, Ruth is happy to have the company. Frida is efficient and helpful, and willing to listen to Ruth's stories about her childhood in Fiji and the man she fell for there. But why does Ruth hear a tiger prowling through the house at night? How far can Ruth trust this enigmatic woman? And how far can she trust herself?

This hypnotic tale soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about ageing, love, dependence, fear and power, and about the mysterious workings of the mind. Here is a dazzling new writer, reminding us how powerfully fiction can speak to our innermost secrets.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (16 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444776673
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444776676
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 196,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


[A] glittering debut . . . The Night Guest's precise and elegant prose has been praised . . . but what really stands out is its portrayal of one life lived, told with a fullness that is reminiscent of another masterful antipodean novel - Emily Perkins's The Forrests. What is most tenderly depicted is Ruth's backward reflection on her life choices - her marriage, unfulfilled romances, her role as wife and mother. This forms the heart of the book, outside the thriller-ish plot, and it is rendered with extraordinary maturity for such a young writer. (Arifa Akbar Independent)

McFarlane deploys her unreliable narrator skilfully, confining the reader to Ruth's increasingly bewildered consciousness while heightening the menacing threat posed by Frida. Horribly believable, The Night Guest is an impressive debut novel that sustains the tense unravelling of its mystery. (The Sunday Times)

A sensitive exploration of the workings of time and memory, by turns joyful and sad, and sustained throughout by clear and delicate prose . . . Ruth's viewpoint delivers tremendous insight and empathy . . . The Night Guest is a wonderfully evoked portrait of old age that disturbs and elevates in equal measure. The symbolic tiger, frightening, untameable, but awe-inspiring, is an important aspect of its power. (Rachel Hore Independent on Sunday)

This psychological thriller feels uneasily close to the realities many families face . . . What's real and what's imagined are terrifyingly difficult to distinguish. It's surreal and menacing. (Fiona Wilson The Times)

McFarlane exploits the vulnerably blurry boundaries of memory here to create a subtle and beguiling crescendo of suspense. Facts shift like the dunes beyond the back door. A limpid, beautiful novel. (Victoria Moore Daily Mail)

Fiona McFarlane's debut novel is a conundrum for the reviewer - a book with a plot which, when summarised, suggests little of its charm, wit, and suspenseful energy . . . this is a witty, poetic psychological thriller in which the reader becomes so firmly embedded in Ruth's mind that one cannot help but sympathise with her confusion . . . The question of Frida's integrity, or lack of it, gives the book its narrative edge; but its joy comes from McFarlane's language, which perfectly captures Ruth's old-fashioned, gently rebellious spirit, and the almost enjoyable onset of vagueness . . . This is a very moving description of old age (Emily Stokes Financial Times)

How much torment can you bear before you put a novel down? For a reader unsure of the thickness of their skin, Fiona McFarlane's promising debut may provide the answer to the millimetre. (Literary Review)

Be prepared: on the day you sit down to read this book, you will become an antisocial, distressed and confused person. You will probably utter no words all day but a whispered "Oh God" when you finish each chapter and have to, but have to, go straight on to the next, neglecting your life, your family, your bills, your work, your washing. How dare a 35-year-old author from Sydney be such a super writer - the kind of writer who half-makes you think "I could write a novel like that", because it seems so effortless, but half-makes you think "I might as well give up writing right now", because it's so good? (Country Life)

A powerfully distinctive narrative about identity and memory, the weight of life and the approach of death . . . Frida is a fantastic creation; and her relationship with Ruth, a messy combination of big lies and small, important truths in which the power dynamic shifts by the second, is touching and terrifying by turns . . . The achievement of McFarlane's book is to demonstrate with such clarity and measured compassion that the mind, in the end, is where all tigers live. (Justine Jordan Guardian)

'[An] intense debut novel about ageing, loneliness and menace . . . McFarlane wrote this after witnessing both grandmothers' dementia. In the beautifully realised, complex character of Ruth she has paid fitting tribute. (Catherine Taylor Sunday Telegraph)

The Night Guest is a battle to preserve internal order and civility from the madness and barbarity lurking outside . . . McFarlane beautifully captures the protracted loss of Ruth's faculties, one day at a time, like the tide eroding the shore (Philip Maughan New Statesman)

Fiona McFarlane's stunning debut is beautifully written and psychologically tense. The Night Guest elegantly explores the themes of loss and loneliness, the physical burdens of old age and mental frailty . . . there is an inescapable sense of unease, of things careening out of control as Ruth happily allows her independence to be deliciously undermined . . . [An] extraordinarily accomplished debut. (Eithne Farry Sunday Express)

Book Description

The hypnotic tale of a psychological battle on unequal terms and a superbly drawn portrait of two very particular women - a beautifully written, unnerving and acutely moving debut.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiger, tiger, burning bright 11 Dec 2013
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Night Guest is a rather wonderful and quite surprising novel.

We meet a widow, Ruth, who lives alone in a remote house on the NSW South Coast. She is convinced as she lies in bed one night that she can hear a tiger in the living room.

A few days later, Frida arrives on her doorstep with a sheaf of papers explaining that she is a government funded nurse who will provide assessment and, perhaps, an hour of care each day. This leaves Ruth somewhat bemused and feeling somewhat patronised. But because Frida appears to be Fijian and Ruth had a happy childhood in Fiji, she decides to roll with it. Indeed, she even makes contact with a former lover who broke her heart back in those Fiji days. At this point and for the first quarter of the book, it's not totally clear what the story is. It feels a bit Autumn Laing - proud old woman stubbornly resisting society's expectation that she can't cope.

But it starts to become clear that Ruth really can't cope. Her memory is not great. Some things are remembered clearly although with time even the most confident memories start to look shaky. The novel starts to take shape around the relationship that builds between Ruth and Frida, set in counterpoint by Ruth's relationship with her sons and Frida's relationship with her brother George.

Bit by bit, tension builds. At first there are hints that all is not well. But the volume keeps increasing. By the end, the reader stands with Ruth staring into the abyss.

The Night Guest is best read without knowing too much about it. That way, the surprises will be genuine. It is beautifully paced and extremely engaging. There is an excellent evocation of old age, growing helplessness, and the conflict between wanting to help but being frustrated.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Long Live the Tiger! 11 Aug 2014
By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Ruth Field, the protagonist of this disquieting novel, is a 75-year-old Australian widow, who retired with her husband Harry from Sydney to live in a small town by the sea. Harry died suddenly soon after, and for five years Ruth has lived alone with her two cats. Her sons have moved to other countries (one to New Zealand, one to Hong Kong) and she lives a somewhat solitary life. However, she seems fairly self-sufficient until the night that she wakes up convinced a tiger is marauding about in her house. Of course, no tiger actually appears - but the following day, a strange, exotic looking woman called Frida arrives and tells Ruth that she's been 'sent by the government' to clean and care for Ruth for an hour each day. Ruth believes her (on very little proof) and soon Frida is doing far more than one hour's day a work for Ruth - she's managing her bank accounts, cooking her meals (Ruth was previously sketchy in her eating habits) and making her house immaculate. Ruth appears to be thriving under this treatment, and even manages to pluck up the courage to re-instigate a relationship with her first love Richard, who she knew as a girl in Fiji, and who is now an eighty-year-old widower. But it is during Richard's visit that Frida begins to become controlling - and suddenly it becomes apparent that what we're reading is not a peaceful narrative about old age and memory, but a story embodying a real nightmare scenario - what happens when a defenceless old person on the brink of dementia falls into the hands of an unscrupulous carer. I found myself reading with increasing horror as Frida got increasingly domineering and Ruth more and more helpless - what exactly does Frida want? And why does she encourage Ruth when Ruth believes that the tiger of her dreams has returned? Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars AN IMPRESSIVE DEBUT 18 Aug 2014
By Mrs. C. Swarfield TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a powerfully distinctive narrative about identity and memory, the weight of a life and the approach of death. Though she has "reached the stage where her sons worried about her" Ruth as she poignantly tells us is "not so old - only 75".

Also Ruth is not stupid: she knows shes imagining rather then hearing the tiger move through her house by night, its hot breath and heavy body attended by a "sense of extravagant consequence" that something is coming towards her.

The very next morning Frida appears at her front door, larger than life and twice as imposing -"sent by the government" to help Ruth with cooking, cleaning and so on. Ruth's son over the phone from New Zealand is torn between suspicion and delight at such a good useof tax payers money. Ruth previously had been content to live in her house in the dunes, feeling that it, like her, was "making its leisurely way on an island of its own to an open sea", but unpredictable, mercurial Frida, who arrives each morning with a different hairstyle awakens her to company, to touch, to the chance to tell her story of who she is to another human being again.

The story weaves its way around Ruth's worsening memory lapses and my foreboding and mistrust of Frida worsened along with Ruth's memory.

The achievement of this book is it demonstrates with clarity and compassion that the mind, in the end is where all tigers live.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"The Night Guest" by Fiona McFarlane is author's first novel although considering its quality learning about it would be a surprise for reader.

It's psychological thriller that for the main character has Ruth, an older aged widow who lives alone in an isolated house on the beach.
She has two sons with whom she isn't so close anymore, and some man from the past, her former love who doesn't want to come live with her.
Being so lonely, when one day Frida, the woman she doesn't know will come to her, looking strangely, she will let her inside her house, but her life as well...
Also, the unusual event that preceded Frida's arrival is Ruth strange feeling that in her house was tiger during the night before, which is impossible because she is living so far from the place where tigers live.
Are these two unusual guests in her life somehow connected and did Ruth due to her loneliness begin losing her mind?

Story is told by Ruth, and due to her condition she is not narrator that can be trusted, and on the other side reader from the start will be curious about Frida, is she really the person that she said, representing help from the government or something else that is perceived differently due to Ruth condition.

The reader will be slowly immersed into the interplay between these two characters, and events that are happening although looking not important will lead to consequences that cannot be avoided.

Not to spoil the pleasure of reading, it's difficult to write any more, but "The Night Guest" is nicely made psychological story full of suspense that shows how badly people need companionship and how quickly they can build a relationship even with a complete stranger if they live in isolation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A real disappointment
Oh, I'm really sorry, but I got nothing out of this book at all.
The storyline, with the exception of a randomly appearing imagined lion, is predictable and the writing style... Read more
Published 15 days ago by P. Cranfield
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
An enjoyable read.
Published 19 days ago by ester hughes
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, sad yet enthralling
Beautifully written, this is a sad yet enthralling story about Ruth, an elderly woman who is clearly in the early stages of dementia, as she thinks she can hear a tiger in her... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Ebook Proofreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
well constructed sensitively written look forward to more from this author
Published 1 month ago by Cecilia
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
First of all try and read the hardback version of this book - it has one of the most attractive covers I have seen in a long time. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensitive Suspense
Main protagonists are Ruth as an elderly lady living on her own but then joined by Frida as a care worker, and the story of ‘The Night Guest’ is their relationship over just a few... Read more
Published 2 months ago by D. Elliott
4.0 out of 5 stars The Night Guest
Apparently this is a debut novel from Australian writer, Fiona McFarlane. As debuts go it is pretty accomplished without setting the world on fire. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Arthur Dooley
4.0 out of 5 stars An accomplished debut on old age
'Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said 'Tiger!' That was natural; she was dreaming. Read more
Published 3 months ago by purpleheart
3.0 out of 5 stars Not your usual type of thriller - three and a half stars.
"The Night Guest" is a rather fascinating and quite interesting novel. It begins one night with Ruth, a widow who lives on her own in a remote seafront house in Australia, waking... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lola
4.0 out of 5 stars UNSETTLING & SAD
A psychological novel set in Australia. Vulnerable elderly widow Ruth lives in an isolated large house overlooking the sea (whales sometimes enhancing the view). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mr. D. L. Rees
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