In May, members of the Pink Fibro Book Club read Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, which has been shortlisted for the 2014 Miles Franklin Award.
Here are my thoughts.
The Night Guest / Fiona McFarlane
One morning Ruth wakes thinking a tiger has been in her seaside house. Later that day a formidable woman called Frida arrives, looking as if she’s blown in from the sea. In fact she’s come to care for Ruth. Frida and the tiger: both are here to stay, and neither is what they seem.
Which of them can Ruth trust? And as memories of her childhood in Fiji press upon her wih increasing urgency, can she even trust herself?
A funny thing happened to me after I read this book. Usually, I finish a book, give myself a day (at most) to think about it, then move on to the next one.
After finishing The Night Guest, I couldn’t do that. It took me longer – about a week – of thinking, analysing and feeling to work up to opening another book.
Ruth lives a quiet, seaside life following the death of her husband five years previously. Her two sons are grown and have moved away, with one checking in sporadically as his travels (and care factor) allow, and the other checking in with such scheduled regularity as to seem impersonal.
Then Frida arrives. She’s here to help – to keep house, and to keep Ruth on track. It’s help that Ruth doesn’t think she needs, but admits could be useful. Just an hour a day.
The Night Guest seems benign at first, and meanders along nicely. But it grows increasingly disquieting, bit by bit, so that you hardly notice. Not until the disquiet becomes something more sinister, and you’re completely invested in the book and its outcome.
I was so certain of what was happening. I knew exactly what was going on, and whether Ruth was in control of the situation. Of her mind. So certain. So very certain.
Until I wasn’t. Not at all. And not because she wasn’t. Or was. Or wasn’t. Or was.
Back and forth, like a yo-yo. It’s what my head did as I read the book, and it’s what it’s still doing now, two weeks later.
- Ruth would have liked to know another language in order to revert to it at times of disproportionate frustration.
- The women held hands for a long time while the funeral eddied about them, as if hoping to communicate to each other a love that couldn’t be justified by the scarcity of their contact.
- I carried you under my ribs for nine months, she thought. I fed you with my body. I’m God. The phrase that occurred to her was son of a bitch. But then she would be the bitch.
- When Ruth recalled this early period of her marriage – and she often did – the impression was of an existing happiness that had only been waiting for them to enter into it.
- She noticed she was in the process of standing only because she was no longer on the ground.
I have read 28 books so far this year (a number that surprised me – no more complaining that I never get any time to myself!), and The Night Guest goes to number two with a bullet. (For me, it’s just pipped by Hannah Kent’s debut, Burial Rites. Get onto both of them, stat.)
Have you read The Night Guest? What did you think?
Previous book reviews:
The Thirteenth Tale
The Shadow Year and Barracuda
The Paris Wife
Mister Pip and The Light Between Oceans
Big Brother and We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Shining Girls and The Fault in Our Stars