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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiger, tiger, burning bright
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...
Published 8 months ago by MisterHobgoblin

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3.0 out of 5 stars Long Live the Tiger!
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...
Published 12 days ago by Kate Hopkins


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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiger, tiger, burning bright, 11 Dec 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
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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. There are excellent questions of master and servant relationships; the conflict of generations; the conflict of money; the conflict of coloniser and colonised. If you only read one book over the Christmas holidays, you could do a lot worse than this one.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Long Live the Tiger!, 11 Aug 2014
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Paperback)
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?

McFarlane can certainly write - her prose style is elegant, the flashbacks to Ruth's childhood and adolescence as the daughter of missionaries in Fiji are beautifully crafted, her affair with Richard is moving and I enjoyed the elements of magic realism symbolized in the tiger (even if I wasn't entirely sure what the tiger symbolized at times). But as I read on I couldn't help feeling that the luscious language masked a story that was extremely nasty - a sordid story of exploitation with odd moments of surprising sentimentality (as in Ellen's comment on Frida in the final chapter). And the trouble, I felt, was that in order to make Ruth's experiences particularly shocking and horrible, McFarlane created a story that was in some respects unbelievable. For example, Ruth's mental deterioration appears to happen almost at once; having seen various elderly relatives and family friends aged eighty or more develop dementia, my observation is that it comes on quite slowly (unless the person has a stroke or brain haemorrhage, which I don't think Ruth does?) and moreover that the person is aware for quite some time that they are losing their memory and getting confused, and struggles against it. Also 75 seems quite young for a woman to develop dementia without some sudden trauma or dramatic illness. Even if we're meant to believe that Ruth is ill because Frida is drugging her (a possibility) I think Ruth would be aware that something was wrong, and try to get help. Nor do I believe that a seemingly intelligent (if lonely and malnourished) elderly woman would just hand over bank books and money to a near-stranger. And I agree with another reviewer that surely Ruth's sons (particularly when their mother stopped phoning them), or her neighbour Ellen would have realized that something was wrong much earlier, and tried to do something about Frida to stop her getting so much power. And why didn't Ruth attempt to get help - either from Richard while he was around (Frida starts getting nasty during his visit) or via the phone on occasions when Frida leaves her alone? All in all it made a story that seemed fairly incredible as well as nasty, and one in which the protagonist came across as unbelievably submissive, naive and credulous as well as unwell. (We also didn't see enough of Ruth in a well state to be able to ascertain whether she was naturally a very passive person who liked others to 'run her' or whether this was a sign of her illness - and apart from her cats she appeared to have very few interests in life, which made her slightly bland.) And Frida's sudden personality change late in the book seemed completely unconvincing for someone who'd been so cruel. Also, bearing in mind Ruth's background I thought the theme of religion- particularly bearing in mind Ruth's frailty, could have been explored more.

All in all, I felt that though McFarlane is undoubtedly very gifted and intelligent, this was a novel where convincing plot was sacrificed to a wish to explore certain themes, and to create a frightening atmosphere. I can't say I enjoyed it much. However, there were a few passages that I really admired, that would make me certainly consider buying another Fiona McFarlane novel - the descriptions of Ruth's early passion for Richard in Fiji and of their final coming together at Ruth's house, and, best of all, the final visit of the tiger, whose purpose is finally explained. The pages describing the tiger's arrival and Ruth's meeting with him contained some stunning writing, the best in the book, and incredibly moving. Therefore, although I didn't enjoy the book as a whole, I certainly join with Ruth in saying 'long live the tiger!' - he saved this book from being completely depressing.

Not to my taste on the whole, but certainly worth a read for some of the writing style and for the tiger!
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4.0 out of 5 stars AN IMPRESSIVE DEBUT, 18 Aug 2014
By 
Mrs. C. Swarfield - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great debut story about trust, manipulation, loneliness and aging, one of those you will remember, 26 Mar 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
"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.

A book by Fiona McFarlane is great debut book that tells story about trust, manipulation, loneliness and aging, one of those stories that you will remember even when you'll be old.
Therefore, I can fully recommend you to experience how it feels to be visited by night guest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an amazing debut novel, 18 Mar 2014
By 
Cloggie Downunder (Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
The Night Guest is the first novel by Australian author, Fiona McFarlane. In a novel filled with gorgeous, evocative prose, McFarlane builds a tale encompassing the following elements: an old widow living alone (Ruth Field); a deceased husband (Harry); two sons remotely located (Jeffrey and Phillip); a formidable care worker who insinuates herself into the widow’s life (Frida Young); the elderly man who was once the object of the widow’s teenage infatuation (Richard Porter); a taxi driver (Frida’s brother, George); a good Samaritan (Ellen Gibson); a substantial sum of money; two cats; a beachfront cottage; and a (possibly imaginary) tiger. McFarlane’s characters are familiar and believable, although occasionally, larger than life, and their dialogue is realistic. Her descriptions are redolent with rich imagery: “Frida sat on the unfamiliar chair and looked at Ruth, impassive. Her obstinacy had a mineral quality. Ruth felt she could chip away at it with a sharp tool and reveal nothing more than the uniformity of its composition” and “Ruth’s back objected to all this. She often imagined her back as an instrument; that way she could decide if the pain was playing in the upper or lower registers. Sometimes it was just a long, low note, and sometimes it was insistent and shrill. Lying in the sand, it was both. It was a whole brassy, windy ensemble” and “The day was that wet, pressed sort on which no one would make the effort to come to this part of the beach. In weather like this, the beach was revealed as both dangerous and dirty. The sea was oppressive, and the sky was bright and colourless and dragged down upon its surface” are just a few examples. McFarlane deftly creates the environment in which the events of her plot seem entirely plausible, and the reader will be filled with an escalating sense of foreboding as the novel progresses. McFarlane’s novel explores many topics: vulnerability, imagination, confusion and forgetfulness (“Where had all this been waiting while she worked so effortlessly to forget it? She sat trembling with gratitude for her brain, that sticky organ.”), as well as loss of independence, help, caring, communication, love and trust. This is quite an amazing debut novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poignant read and thought provoking, 18 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Kindle Edition)
Although some elements of the plot are predictable, you are drawn in to the story hoping that your suspicions of Frida's motives are not as you suspect. Ruth has clearly been an intelligent woman with a "normal" family life. However, she is starting to develop problems with short term memory and this impacts on her ability to look after herself whilst on her own at home.
Having had the experience of relatives with dementia, I can say that the author really seems to capture the first stages of this dreadful disease. A stage which must be so frightening for the individual, when they know something is wrong but cannot really comprehend what it may be. Imagination and memory become linked to create sometimes bizarre interpretations of events, which is so well reflected by the author
The book also considers how these changes in mental health of older people are considered by families, particularly if they are not close by, and how vulnerable this makes them. Many reading the book would be judgemental of Ruth's family, but ask yourself the question - what would you have done in their shoes? Be honest!!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, sad yet enthralling, 24 July 2014
This review is from: The Night Guest (Kindle Edition)
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 house at night. Along comes Frida, a carer, who claims to have been sent by 'the government', and thus with horrible certainty, we see that the lonely Ruth comes to depend on her. I particularly like Ruth's flashes of mischief and assertiveness, but without giving anything away, the reader can see that she is in a downward spiral. I think I'll go and visit my elderly neighbour now ...
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tiger yearning fairly bright, 23 April 2014
By 
This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I really wished I could have liked this more than I did, mainly because I can see it is a 'worthy' book, about something important

First time Australian author Fiona McFarlane has written an imaginative novel about something which I guess lurks around for all of us, in time - age and death. Who will be there for us, who will we be there for, and will increased physical fragility also be accompanied by the loss of mind? When we are most vulnerable, will we be treated with care, respect, tenderness and compassion, or will be abused and exploited, in any of the myriad possible ways.

Her central character Ruth is a 75 year old widow, living far from her two sons in what should have been an idyllic coastal retirement home for her and her husband, on the outskirts of a small New South Wales community. Except that her husband suddenly died of a heart attack, and Ruth has been alone. Her sons clearly are not neglectful, not unloving, but they are just not geographically anywhere near, and she is becoming older, frailer, forgetful, and indeed the boundaries between what is real and what is imagination are beginning to frighteningly blur.

Into this set-up comes a mysterious stranger, Frida, a powerful woman who has by all accounts been sent as part of a government initiative, to be Ruth's carer and nurse.

The trajectory of the book is immediately obvious, and we know we are on a journey which will not be kind, will ratchet up the anxiety of the reader and most probably will not have a happy ending.

I should have enjoyed the journey; McFarlane is certainly a competent writer, and the psychology of the two major protagonists is broadly credible.

I'm not quite sure what the problem was - except that ANY book, published in January, bearing a dustjacket statement claiming that what you are about to read is `The debut of 2014' MUST immediately be on extremely dangerous marketing territory. This raises the stakes so impossibly high that disappointment is almost inevitable. My expectations were that this was going to be quite, quite exceptional.

And it is - OK. At times I think McFarlane's `writing beautiful imagination' becomes a little farcical and fantastical. This is not `magical realism' but at times the attempt at meaningful metaphor amongst the real ways in which manipulation of the vulnerable elderly may happen seemed too self-conscious, too indulged, too fantastical. I felt as if the author was at times missing her step on both the real and the fantastical, so that I found my `is this credible' sense stretched.

The attempt to ground Frida in real explained reality `part of a government scheme, paid for by the government - I'm here for free' as she arrives, unannounced, might very well have slipped by Ruth, but her apparently moderately sensible sons? No way. `In real' a rat would have been smelt at the start, since such initiatives, were they happening, without anyone applying for them, would have for sure been big news items for a voter pleasing government.

There was, yes a point when the slow ratcheting up of tension DID work for me, but this maybe only lasted for about 50-70 pages. Both at the start of the book, and again, for about the last 100 pages, I struggled to engage.

Had this not been a review copy, so that I felt bound to read it in order to properly review it, it would have been abandoned. I didn't loathe it (though forcing myself to read it made me feel resentful) but it barely reached okay. Sadly, my 2 star review has happened through being forced to finish the book in order to `give it a proper chance' New Vine rules mean everything must BE reviewed. Hence the not particularly enjoyable will get punished for the penance the reviewer feels forced into.

At least it was only 278 pages, but it felt considerably longer. Not to mention that the amount of hairdye and hair products which must have been used on a daily basis was surprising. Surely hair would fall out.........
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh Australian novel, 15 Feb 2014
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Ruth is a seventy-five year old widow living in a remote beach house in New South Wales. Her solitary life is filled with her cats, phone calls from her sons, and a tiger prowling her house at night - a presence which fills her with both fear and exhilaration. One day Frida enters her life, a forceful woman who says she has been sent by the government to be Ruth's carer.

"The Night Guest" charts the relationship between the two women as Frida insinuates herself ever more into Ruth's life. The reader is kept in a state of suspense about her motives whilst never being sure how much Ruth's version of reality can be trusted. The result is a horribly tense novel leavened by McFarlane's acute and sympathetic imagining of Ruth's inner life.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Night Guest, 27 Jan 2014
By 
J. Charlesworth (Lewes, E. Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Night Guest (Hardcover)
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Normally I would view a first novel by an author whose credentials are purely academic (MA & PhD) with some cynicism, but The Night Guest subverted these expectations. Fiona McFarlane's finely written debut explores issues of ageing and memory with grace.

Ruth is an elderly widow, living alone somewhere on the coast of Australia. One night she calls her son, Jeffrey, in a panic, having been woken in the night by the sound of what she thought was a tiger in the house. A few days later, a strange woman shows up at the house, saying she is a carer, sent by the government. It seems that Frida may be just what Ruth needs-certainly her story seems plausible and her paperwork is all in order. As the relationship between the two women gradually develops, Ruth gradually finds herself confused by various events: her head is itching and when Frida asks when she last washed her hair, she does not know; one evening she finds that Frida has moved into her house and she does not remember agreeing to this.

Ruth may be old, but she is no less a rounded and developed person for her age; her believableness as a person made me, the reader, want to trust her perceptions–and, as it becomes clear that Ruth and Frida's perceptions do not quite match up, Ruth begins to doubt herself and we, too doubt the reality of what she is saying. Yet she burns with a fierce desire for independance; she will not put up with her son Jeffrey patronising her on the phone: "I carried you under my ribs for nine months, she thought. I fed you with my body. I'm God." She reconnects with Richard, a man she fell in love with as a teenager. She likes swearing, secretly.

I must say that I was never sure whether or not something sinister was going on. Was Ruth simply losing her memory or was she being skilfully manipulated (gaslighted) by Frida? Why did her sons not seem terribly concerned? Were they hoping that everything was alright, or simply too busy to spend much time with their ageing Mum? The Night Guest raises these unsettling questions–in the end, nobody wants to think that they would be the person who didn't take care of their ageing parents.
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The Night Guest
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Paperback - 26 Sep 2013)
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