Claudia Putnam's Reviews > The Night Guest

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
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Jun 02, 2016

it was amazing
bookshelves: literary-fiction, blazing-debuts

Wow, incredible debut! While not as complex (because not such a diverse cast of characters, and because not Southern gothic) as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, that is the book that came to mind as I was reading this one, in terms of the author's intimacy with her characters and mastery of story, pacing, etc. Perhaps the plot is a bit predictable, but the characters aren't.

There were two flaws, I thought. The cats were what made the tiger really work--they react to it, or to whatever it is, and therefore make it real. Yet the cats aren't given individual personalities or much of a role outside of the fact that we know Ruth cares for them and that Frida does not. But Ruth would have given them names and to her their unique personalities would have been manifest. Not developing their characters was a mistake, I feel. For one thing, the book might have used more "people" in it, further complicating the interactions among Ruth, Frida, and the tiger. As it was, the tiger felt just a little unbalanced in the direction of being a device rather than a contender... if the cats hadn't been there to react to it, we'd all have dismissed it as Jeffrey did. Even Frida's "battle" wasn't enough to validate the tiger. Only the cats worked, IMO. So we really could have used even more of the cats.

More people all the way around wouldn't have hurt. More townspeople, for example. What if the car had already been sold, or had broken down, so that Ruth had already learned to take the bus, and the townspeople were used to seeing her around? What if they weren't so ready to have Frida doing everything for Ruth? What if the bank were more vigilant? It just seemed that it was all too easy for Frida, and I had a hard time crediting it. I mean, you do read about this stuff happening, and I had the feeling that Ruth was never all that taken in, but rather thought that it was worth it at many points along the way. That she was awed by Frida's boldness and thought it a brava performance. But you'd think that Jeffrey had read the same articles about this sort of thing, and that the bank managers had as well. Having more interference from some of these characters might have added a bit of texture, and having Frida navigate this or produce some certifications and maybe even BE an actual government carer, could have messed with our own perceptions a bit more.

But that wasn't the second flaw. That flaw, in my personal opinion was that the ending just kind of... petered out. The way endings do in literary fiction these days. Where's the punch? Realism (as in, life just peters out) has its weaknesses as far as storytelling goes, and if you're going to have a tiger in a book set in Australia, then I say you are not bound by realism, and it's okay if you sock it to the reader in the end.

Overall, still 5 stars, because I read it in two nights and hated when it was over. Absolutely stunning writing.
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2016 – Started Reading
June 2, 2016 – Shelved
June 6, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
June 6, 2016 – Shelved as: blazing-debuts
June 6, 2016 – Finished Reading

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