Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Night Guest by Fiona Mcfarlane

It is possible that this review may end up being the quickest one I ever write. I don’t want to dally because I need to know what is going to happen. It’s to the point where I almost didn’t want to review this book because I didn’t want to stop reading! Shockingly (not so much), this book was recommended to me via The Readers; they've been talking about it for months and finally did a review episode a couple of weeks ago; hence my desire to read this now.

The Night Guest introduces us to Ruth, a 70 something widow, who lives alone with her two cats in Australia. One night she hears a tiger wandering around her lounge. The next day the mysterious Frida shows up on her doorstep claiming to be a caretaker sent by the government. At first Frida comes just for an hour a day, but soon Ruth starts to become dependent on Frida and Frida starts insinuating herself further and further into Ruth’s life. Everyone seems pleased with the relationship, especially Ruth’s sons. Everyone that is, except for Ruth. Most of the time things are great. Frida does all the things that Ruth is finding too hard or just doesn’t want to do – but something is a little off. Frida may be taking too many liberties... and isn’t it kind of strange that this woman just showed up on the doorstep? The problem is, Ruth is not the most reliable narrator. She is getting older and, well… she thinks there’s a tiger that comes into her house at night.

This book is really good. It’s really really good. Ruth is adorable, and even though she is an old lady I totally identify with her. She’s unsure and a little insecure. Mcfarlane captures her voice perfectly… although I guess I can’t really say that since she also created that voice, but trust me, the sentiment fits. Ruth makes decisions based on random events happening and she gets indignant at the best times “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’.

Even though I am loving it, The Night Guest has been a slightly hard for me to read. My grandmother had dementia, caused by strokes, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that she believed there was a tiger crawling around her living room. I think though, this is where Mcfarlane is doing something really brilliant. Although I am not convinced that there is anything wrong with Ruth, other than the regular complaints of old age; she gives insight into someone dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Ruth has been reminiscing about her childhood in Fiji, in particular her relationship with her father’s young colleague. She was in love with him, and now 50 years later decides to reconnect with him. I want Ruth to be ok, I want the tiger to be real, I want her to get a second chance at a long lost love and live the rest of her life in complete happiness. This book is such a blend, it has elements of fantasy; the strange tiger and accompanying jungle noises, thriller; did the government really send Frida, is she really there to help, literary fiction; this book is incredibly well written, its smart, it’s funny, it’s heart wrenching and it is definitely not a light cozy read.                                                                                                                                                                                            

When I started this blog, I wasn’t really sure how this midpoint review thing would go. Was the middle of the book a good place to stop? Would people just be annoyed that I haven’t actually finished the book… but I must say I have loved it! Of all the books that I have read for this, nothing has been ruined before the midpoint, and I always seem to finish just when the action is getting crazy. This book is no exception!  I am at page 122 and things could not be more tense. Why is Frida there; did the government really send her? Is there a tiger really strolling around in the lounge at night? I cannot wait to get back to this book!

In honour of my grandmother, I am going to choose plain old Red Rose as the tea for this book. That's what my grandma drank, and I think its appropriate for this book. And remember; call your mother, call your grandmother. Make sure there aren't any errant tigers in anyone's living room tonight.

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