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December 24, 2013 / Leslie

Review: The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane The Night Guest
by Fiona McFarlane

Genre: Mystery / Suspense
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: October 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover | 256 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5

Ruth, a 75-year-old widow, lives alone in a secluded beach house in a coastal Australian town. Her sons are grown and while they check up on her by phone, neither live nearby. Her husband, Harry, has been gone for five years.

Ruth’s needs are simple but her days are lonely and she leads an isolated existance. She eats pumpkin seeds for breakfast – there is little else in the pantry – and watches the surfers on the beach from her window. She thinks back on her childhood and growing up in Fiji with her missionary parents, and reminisces about an unrequited love.

As Ruth looks out the window at the surfers on the beach, she sees a woman approaching her doorstep. The woman introduces herself as Frieda Young and says she’s here to help. She was sent through a government program as a caregiver for an hour or so a day: prepare meals, take on housework, etc.

Frieda’s arrival seems too good to be true. At first she is a wonderful companion and helper, a tireless worker, volunteering to do everything for Ruth, but she gradually changes from friendly, cheerful caregiver to easily annoyed, sarcastic, and often losing patience with Ruth. At first Ruth seems alert and in command, but is she? Questions arise, clues mount and things don’t add up, but Ruth accepts it all even though Frieda becomes manipulative and creepy.

About the half way point the tone of the novel changed from a light tale to a suspenseful, slowly building psychological thriller. Who is Frieda and what are her intentions? Even at the start she seemed to good to be true, but Ruth’s sons never verified her credentials. Did the government really send her? Much of the novel is through Ruth’s point of view. Is she a reliable narrator or is she losing her mind? I liked Ruth and was worried about her as she became confused and dependent on Frieda.

I enjoyed this well-written, thought-provoking story. I was surprised to learn this was a debut novel and from a young author. She has a keen sense of the trials of aging and dementia. This was a haunting, emotional and at times alarming tale with well developed characters that could be drawn from real life. It will make you want to pick up the phone or get in the car and check up on someone you care about.

Source: Review copy.
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Leave a Comment
  1. laurelrainsnow / Dec 24 2013 11:04 am

    Yes! I totally agree on your thoughts about this one…and it also made me very nervous. It took me back to my days as a social worker for the elderly, when family members seemed caring, but were not. Thanks for sharing.


    • Leslie / Dec 24 2013 4:31 pm

      There are so many scams out there now with the elderly. My father-in-law was targeted twice, once through a bank scam and once by a person befriending him. We caught it right away but I fear for anyone who does not have a family member who is involved.


  2. Diane@BibliophilebytheSea / Dec 24 2013 2:50 pm

    I am so glad you read and enjoyed this me too. I hope my son isn’t as removed as hers were when i get her age:)

    Merry Christmas Leslie


    • Leslie / Dec 24 2013 4:29 pm

      Yeah, two sons and neither could be bothered to pay a visit; that was disturbing. Having no one to watch out for me is one of the things I fear about old age. On one side of my family there is some dementia, the other side has a few super-agers – my grandmother is 102 and very sharp.- I take after the super-ager side but you never know!


  3. Mystica / Dec 25 2013 2:46 am

    Stepping in to wish you a very Merry Christmas


  4. sagustocox / Dec 26 2013 11:33 am

    I haven’t heard of this one, but it is definitely going on the list of desired books. I like the cover too.


  5. Chrizette / Dec 27 2013 3:27 am

    This sounds very intriguing. I am looking for something different to read and am going to look out for a copy. Just Reading for Fun


  6. stacybuckeye / Dec 28 2013 10:53 pm

    This looks totally fantastic (even though cover scares me a little) and I;m adding it to my list right now.



  1. 2013 Reading Wrap-Up | Under My Apple Tree

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