- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Sceptre (16 Jan. 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1444776673
- ISBN-13: 978-1444776676
- Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.7 x 23.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 84 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 712,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Night Guest Hardcover – 16 Jan 2014
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[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 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.See all Product description
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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.
There is a permanent air of tension pervading this story as the reader can't fully rely on Ruth's version of events. Is Frida a potential threat or is Ruth just misinterpreting events? Ruth thinks she can hear a tiger in the house during the night and this echoes the reader's experience as you're on the edge of your seat constantly thinking something bad is about to happen.
I loved Ruth's memories of her youth in Fiji and her first crush, Richard. If only her recollections of the present were more vivid, then she might be aware of impending danger.
After a slow start, I became really engaged by the story of Ruth and Frida. It's a very thought provoking novel, dealing with old age, the responsibilities of children towards their parents, how communities treat their elderly, how we can become invisible as we age. It has the potential to be a maudlin tearjerker but the author reins in the mawkishness and you are left with a gripping psychological thriller. Great debut novel.
I look forward to reading more from this author.
"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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