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The Night Guest [Paperback]

Fiona McFarlane
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

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Review

[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 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)

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)

Like a Hitchcock film, this psychological study of manipulation is poetically tense. This is a seriously creepy read . . . A wonderfully devious novel that will leave you feeling slightly unnerved. (Marie Claire)

The Night Guest is as moving as it is unsettling and suspenseful, thanks to the way Fiona McFarlane sensitively portrays elderly widow Ruth's struggles to cope on her own. (Good Housekeeping)

I absolutely loved it, one of the best books, never mind debuts, I've read in a very long time. Astonishingly brilliant, I read it a month ago and it's still with me. (Evie Wyld)

An extraordinary book in which the heroine, Ruth, not yet aware that isolation is a dangerous luxury, exchanges the world's turmoil for silence, in the hope that the essence of things will reveal a small part of its mystery. It is deeply disturbing, and exquisitely written - full of joy and melancholy - and I willingly accept that I will be haunted by its beauty and its truths for a long time to come. The story is told with a certain inevitability, yet at the same time, it surprises, confounds, and torments. It can't be! I kept thinking, when all the while, I knew, of course, that it was just what I feared - a rapturous, fearsome fable of grief and love. (Susanna Moore)

The Night Guest is such an accomplished and polished debut. There's a delicacy and poignancy to the writing, combined with almost unbearable suspense. I love books in which I have no idea what's going to happen next! (Kate Atkinson)

A gripping new thriller that plays on the fears of old age and isolation. (Stylist)

Sometimes a debut novel burns brighter than the rest, and offers up the promise of literary greatness. The Night Guest is one of these books. Through impeccable narrative control and deft manipulation of the reader's experience, McFarlane opens Ruth's mind to us, leads us into this foreign world, and makes us feel Ruth's terrifying, infuriating disorientation. In doing so, she achieves that great object of fiction - empathy, compassion for a different human life. The Night Guest is an important and exciting first novel by an Australian writer of rare talent. Or, as we might say down under: "a bloody good read." (James McNamara, Los Angeles Review of Books)

An enrapturing debut novel that toys with magical realism while delivering a fresh fable . . . McFarlane's rendering of Ruth's interior is quiet and exacting, and she builds suspense so gently that the danger is, at first, hardly noticeable . . . A pleasurable novel, with turns of plot and phrase both startling and elegant. (Kirkus (starred review))

An extraordinary novel. At once a tender thriller and an exquisitely constructed meditation on time and memory, it is propelled by sentence after sentence of masterful prose. With The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane announces herself as a writer to be read, admired, and read again. (Kevin Powers)

Rich and suspenseful . . . This book is at once a beautifully imagined portrait of isolation and an unsettling psychological thriller. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

Gothic in sensibility, with a touch of magic realism, this novel feels at once like a classic and a fresh, original tale (Library Journal (starred review))

An enthralling psychological thriller in which every gesture and detail is loaded with meaning. This stellar debut will haunt you - and remind you to call your mother. (Entertainment Weekly)

McFarlane's pitch-perfect narration gives us a marvelous window into Ruth . . . The Night Guest is a stellar debut, a master class in narrative skill and a beautiful character portrait. (New York Daily News)

Impressive . . . McFarlane is in complete control . . . dotting her narrative with careful, cumulative details like a pointillist painter . . . There's precision in her choice of words and their sense of anticipation dangles the reader over the lip of every page . . . [The novel] is a clear sighted and compelling exploration of the metaphors and realities of ageing with all its anxiety and wobbly paranoia, and you love Ruth as you travel with her to the book's end and the dreadful pragmatism of familial grief. (Weekend Australian)

An assured, elegiac first novel . . . McFarlane gives an uncanny sense of Ruth's onset of dementia . . . An exceptional debut by a writer of great talent. (West Australian)

Haunting . . . When I finished the novel I was taken by [McFarlane's] skill. Now I'm mesmerised by it . . . While McFarlane pulls the most stirring emotional strings with ease, she tells a poignant, unsettlingly beautiful story that still keeps me up at night. (Booktopia)

[A] quiet, unnerving and beautiful first novel . . . The Night Guest is a debut of uncommon assurance . . . It seems to rise above the shiny trivia of the last decade's novels . . . and do what serious fiction can: leave you more interested in the world, more conscious of its enigmas of love and memory, than you were before you read it. (Chicago Tribune)

Is reality something which exists independent of us in the world, or that which we create in the prisms of our minds? The Night Guest is a beautifully textured novel built around this basic philosophical question. It is a book which reads like a psychological thriller but in the end transcends that category to be a portrait of the isolation, but also the sense of revelation that can accompany old age. (The Daily Beast)

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.

About the Author

Fiona McFarlane was born in Sydney, has a BA from Sydney University and a PhD from Cambridge University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her work has been published in Zoetrope: All-Story, Southerly, The Missouri Review, and Best Australian Stories, and she has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Phillips Exeter Academy, and the Australia Council for the Arts.
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