Title: The Night Guest
Author: Fiona McFarlane
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Genre: Literary Fiction, Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5
Ruth lives on her own in a beach cottage, outside of town. Her sons worry about her because she is elderly and has no one close by to look after her, so they’re relieved when Fiona shows up, sent by the government to look after her for a few hours a day. At first, Ruth is delighted for the company, but Fiona’s presence becomes slightly menacing as Ruth becomes confused as to what is happening around her.
A thought-provoking, if sad, read about a woman’s descent into dementia, The Night Guest also manages to be a well-written psychological thriller, drawing out questions about Fiona’s true identity and what she might want with Ruth.
The Night Guest is, first and foremost, an almost-painful read. Why? Well, Ruth starts out the novel a strong and confident woman. She’s elderly, yes, but she seems sharp and bright. That is, until night comes and she hears a tiger roaming around her house. If she lived in Africa, maybe this would be believable. But not in Australia. All of a sudden, the reader is forced to reevaluate what they think of Ruth—is she slowly descending into dementia? And then, immediately thereafter, Fiona shows up, and the pace of Ruth’s decline increases rapidly. As the book progresses, she has trouble holding onto thoughts and making sense of anything. It’s incredibly well done, but very sad to read about.
But who is Fiona, and what does she want? It’s hard to swallow the “government carer” line; the fact that one would show up on Ruth’s doorstep unannounced is unlikely, and the fact that Ruth’s children believe it so readily shows how relieved they are to not have to worry about her, to hand her over to someone else and make her their responsibility. McFarlane writes Fiona well; she draws you in, even as you know there’s something not quite right there. Readers will likely figure out Fiona’s motives long before the ending is revealed, but there are definitely unexpected twists and turns along the way.
The first half of The Night Guest sets the story; it’s all about character development and vivid descriptions. It’s interesting to immerse yourself in Ruth’s world, to see things from her perspective. But as the novel progresses, McFarlane slowly turns it into a psychological thriller. Where is this going? And what is the endgame?
If you’re looking for a thought-provoking meditation on aging while also craving a good story, The Night Guest is a great choice. It’s well written and the story is gripping, but most of all, you’ll be left with Ruth’s story, a sad look at one woman whose dementia overwhelms her.