The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

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The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Powerful debut novel by Australian writer about ageing. Don't buy this for pace of plot but it's an intelligent and disturbing tale of trust, dependency and mental confusion. And there might be a tiger in it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-0865477735

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Widow, Ruth, lives alone in the isolated seaside house in New South Wales that was once their family holiday house. Her two adult sons now work abroad leaving her just her cats for company. Oh, and possibly a tiger who prowls the house at night. When Frida turns up unannounced claiming to have been sent by the government to care for her things get more and more mysterious. As Ruth reminisces and then meets up again with her former heartthrob from her youth in Fiji, it becomes clear that something isn't right, although with whom is a different matter.

The first word that springs to mind about this debut novel from Australian writer, Fiona McFarlane, is 'powerful'. The second is a close tie between sad and mysterious. It is first and foremost a disturbingly vivid look at ageing. It's a story about mental health, the fight for independence and ultimately about trust and vulnerability. It's a story that's told with a great deal of style and feeling.

The mysteries of the novel are less to do with the personnel - it's fairly clear from the outset who the reader trusts and who they don't - but more in terms of the tricks the mind plays on the elderly. It would be easy for this to become somewhat sentimental too, but McFarlane's touch, while sensitive, is never sentimental.

The tiger image is particularly disturbing. I don't think it's a spoiler to disclose that it's not a real tiger - we are in New South Wales after all and while there are a lot of things that can kill you in Australia, tigers are not amongst them. It serves not only to represent the fear of the unknown for the elderly Ruth but also perhaps to represent her past. Certainly, while Fiji, where Ruth spent many of her teen years, is similarly tiger-free, it is the smells of the jungle that seem to make Ruth reminisce about the past and to renew her contact with Richard.

Frida though seems to take relatively good care of Ruth at first, although some of her techniques are suspect to say the least. But as the scale of Ruth's mental confusion grows more evident, Frida's actions become more and more worrying. The introduction of former beau Richard offers the prospect of resolving the situation but is he to be trusted?

To say much more would risk giving too much of the plot away. Suffice to say that it is a disturbing and powerful read and one that is likely to remain with you for a while. Don’t pick it for action - it's slow and in plot terms relatively slight, but the beauty is in the execution of the story. It might even encourage you to pick up the phone to that elderly relative that you call all too infrequently.

Our grateful thanks to the kind folk at Sceptre Books for sending us this book. We also have a review of The High Places by Fiona McFarlane.

Tigers are surprisingly prevalent in fiction. For more tiger featuring novels, check out Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch and The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. Both ended up on the literary award lists so it seems a good idea to include a tiger in your fiction. As another well-known member of that breed might say about all three books they're Grrrrrreat. You might also appreciate Every Promise by Andrea Bajani.

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Buy The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane at


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