ElCicco #CBR5 Review #51: The Night Guest: A Novel by Fiona McFarlane


The Night Guest is one of those mysterious, sly novels that throws you off balance and causes you to second guess the author all the way through. You know from the first pages that our main character Ruth is someone out of the ordinary. As we learn more about her, it becomes less clear what is real and what is fantasy.

Ruth is a 75-year-old widow, mother of two grown sons, living alone at a beachside house in Australia. When we first meet her, she has been awakened by a sound in the house which she is certain is a tiger. The next morning, a government carer named Frida Young unexpectedly arrives on Ruth’s doorstep to help her for a few hours each day. While Ruth is willing to accept Frida’s help, and her sons are pleased that someone is looking after mum since they are too far away and too busy to check in on her, there is something a bit off, perhaps even sinister about Frida. Ruth experiences occasional qualms over her presence, but what we learn throughout the novel is that Ruth is experiencing the onset of dementia. How much of her concern is genuine and how much is a figment of her imagination? And what about that tiger? It seems easy enough to write that off as a bad dream or a sign of dementia, but what if it’s something real?

The Night Guest is, on one hand, a story about growing old, losing your faculties and independence, and needing to rely on strangers for help. It was especially poignant for me because we, like many, are dealing with this in our family right now.  Ruth’s dementia becomes an opportunity for her to revert to her past, to remember her youth and first love in Fiji. Ruth’s parents were medical professionals and missionaries there and Ruth did not move to Australia until she was 19 or so. McFarlane reveals Ruth’s dementia through her recollections and telling of stories about her time on Fiji, stories whose details change and become muddled as the disease progresses.

But it’s that tiger that really fascinates me. The tiger appears at the very beginning of the story and again towards the end. Ruth’s reaction to the thought of a tiger in her home is not what you might expect. Rather than fear, she experiences something more like exuberance. “… there was another sensation, a new one, to which she attended with greater care: a sense of extravagant consequence. Something important, Ruth felt, was happening to her, and she couldn’t be sure what it was: the tiger, or the feeling of importance…. She felt something coming to meet her — something large, and not a real thing, of course, she wasn’t that far gone — but a shape, or anyway a temperature.”  She goes on to think, “For some time now she had hoped that her end might be as extraordinary as her beginning.” I can tell you that the end of the novel is rather extraordinary and would be a topic of some discussion in a book group.

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. This progress of the dementia plus our concerns about Frida make for a suspenseful and tense tale. And that cover art is pretty cool, too.

Kira’s #CBR5 “Review” #43: The Night Guest, by Fiona McFarlane

the-night-guestI have two secret wishes that I think betray how awesome I’m going to be at old age. The first is that I have always – always – wanted to go on a cruise. A children-less, alcohol-fueled cruise to various ports of call, at which I would disembark for the better part of an afternoon to buy tchotchkes and eat meals in fancy ocean-side restaurants. I’m not saying I’m not aware of the various misadventures that can befall one on maritime vacations (we all went through poop cruise); I’m just saying that in a best-case-scenario, where the weather is lovely and my room is spacious and there are no icebergs, I think a cruise could be fun.

My other Secret Old Person Opinion is that I am pumped to live in a retirement community (again, in a best-case scenario where my room is spacious and there are no icebergs). My very first job was as busperson (feminism) for the swank dining room of a upscale retirement community in the DC suburbs. Outside of the elderly’s very serious demands when it comes to seating arrangements (“But I always sit at the third table on the left”), the job wasn’t bad: generally respectful clientele, no kids throwing food on the floor, and free dinner (plus waffle-bar Sundays). But more importantly, it didn’t seem that bad for them either. Retirement communities are where you can chill with other old people, take things slowly, have your meals delivered and be cranky without etiquette-related ramifications. I mean, I bet you only have to wear shoes like, 30% of the time. And finally, perhaps mostimportantly, in a retirement community you got people looking out for you.

Ruth Field, the protagonist of Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, could stand to check out a retirement community. At 75, Ruth lives alone by the ocean, in the Australia house she once shared with her now-deceased husband. Ruth’s children are adults, and their relationship with her is perfunctory, distant. One day, she is visited by Frida Young, a magnetic and intimidating woman who claims to be a home aide sent by the government to help care for her. Dubious but perhaps unconsciously eager for the company, Ruth opens herself up to Frida, who wastes little time imposing her will in the household.


Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #75: The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane



Already being talked up in the UK as “THE debut novel of 2014”, this is a painfully bad book. Overwritten, underplotted and entirely dreadful, the hype on this one has me well and truly baffled. Read my full review on my blog here.