I’m always amazed when someone so young writes something so grown-up, as Fiona McFarlane has down with her debut The Night Guest. I’ve been on a string of reading successes with FSG affiliates Faber & Faber, and this excellent novel, part psychological thriller, part wistful look at aging, is a perfect example.
75-year-old widow Ruth Field lives alone in an isolated beach house outside of an Australian town. Her well-meaning sons call occasionally, but most of her days are spent in solitary reflection about her past. Once in a while, she imagines she hears a tiger prowling in her living room, a reminder of a childhood spent in Fiji with missionary parents.
One day a stranger shows up at her door. Frida Young has been sent as a care worker by the government. Alternately soothing and bullying, Frida upends Ruth’s life with her cleaning, fixing, and rearranging. Ruth must adjust to having someone in her home, and the process also begins upending her memories. Can she trust Frida? Can she trust her own memories? What parts of the story is she imagining or fabricating?
McFarlane imbues this suspenseful tale with powerful details and a touching sense of the uncertainty at the twilight of life. There’s something about this book that lingers in my imagination, much like the tiger that Ruth hears rattling around her home. I look forward to the author’s future work.