Cheyenne Blue's Reviews > The Night Guest

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
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really liked it
bookshelves: australian, literary-fiction

What an unsettling book, but what a wonderful read.

Ruth is an elderly woman living alone by the beach in Australia. Her husband died some years ago, and her sons live far away, but she's happy, and seems to be managing just fine by herself. The book opens with Ruth in bed at night, her cats around her, and she hears a tiger in the living room. The cats react to the tiger's presence, and Ruth lies and listens to the tiger sniffing around her living room, swishing its tail.

Shortly after this, Frida Young appears on her doorstep. Frida says she is sent by the government as a home carer. At first, she only makes tea and cleans the floors with her enormous bottle of eucalyptus disinfectant. Ruth thinks Frida is Fijian, which is where Ruth, the daughter of missionaries, grew up. At first Ruth is distrustful, but gradually comes to rely heavily on Frida. Frida slides into Ruth's life, a tiny step, a sideways shuffle, a word in the ear, until gradually Ruth is totally dependent on Frida.

Also in this mix is Ruth's past in Fiji, and her first love, Richard, an Australian doctor with whom Ruth fell in love. Their back story is woven throughout the present, and comes to a head when Richard reappears in her life.

I'm not putting any spoilers in this review, as to do so would be to wreck the reading experience. This book is a psychological thriller, balanced on a knifepoint. The book is told exclusively from Ruth's POV, but from the first, the reader can see that Ruth's perspective may not be the real one. The reader can see through Frida -- sure, we may not know exactly WHAT is wrong here, but it's obvious that there is a deep underlay to Frida. Add in the tiger (who is a frequent visitor), Richard, Ruth's sons, and the kindly local lady Ellen, who helped Ruth's dying husband, all of whom approve of and support Frida's presence in Ruth's life, and you're left with a deeply terrifying story.

The book builds slowly, but it's never stagnant. Each layer adds to the claustrophobic feeling that something is wrong. Then at the midpoint (54% according to my Kindle!), the book crests the wave and begins the fast slide down the other side. The pace increases, as does the feeling of dread in the reader until it all comes crashing to a climax in the last 10% of the book. I could not drag my eyes from the page.

What is so chilling about this book is that, given a similar set of circumstances, I could see it happening. To people around me, to my friends and family, to me. That McFarlane is able to build such a scenario speaks highly of her skill as a writer.

Talking of the writing - it's beautiful. Sentences put together so effortlessly, yet such a perfect arrangement of words, of word choices. I admit to noticing the writing more in the simmering build of the first half, rather than the rush of the second, but there's no sloppy writing in here. I got the impression that each and every word was chosen with care, with deliberation.

I'm reminded of Chloe Hooper's The Engagement, not for the storyline, but for the tension and the slow, simmering build, and for how both books make the unbelievable totally and utterly believable.

So why not five stars? I would rate the book 4.5 stars, which normally I would round up to 5. However, the final chapter is a long denouement, and I could have done without this. Sure, it tied up a lot of loose ends, and explained a few things that were otherwise floating, but I didn't need that. Much was already there in the story, if you worked it out, other parts were unnecessary and had a "as we already know, Holmes" feel about them. Some of this backstory explanation had the feel of author's notes about the characters, shovelled in so the reader could appreciate where her character was coming from. There was a touch of deus ex machina. So because the final chapter exists, my 4.5 stars become 4.
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Reading Progress

March 24, 2014 – Shelved
March 24, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
April 3, 2014 – Started Reading
April 3, 2014 –
April 4, 2014 – Shelved as: australian
April 4, 2014 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
April 4, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Judy Okay. Elevated to my next read...... Sounds terrifyingly possible to so many people.

Judy Damn. I thought I had bought it while it was the daily special. Must have missed that one. Not sure I want to pay full price

Judy Library reserve. Done

Cheyenne Blue I think it's worth full price, but library reserve aces that. In the meantime, for a similar reading experience, you could dig out The Engagement, which came your way last year.

Judy Very true......I shall read that next. Will be strange holding a paper book.

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