Day 8: The Night Guest
On the eighth day of Christmas, my literary love bought for me…
Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest!
Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is a mesmerising debut novel about love, dependence, and the fear that the things you know best can become the things you’re least certain about.
Is this your perfect Christmas gift?
The 2014 Stella Prize judges said of The Night Guest:
This is a remarkable debut novel that recalls the classic Australian TV series Mother and Son in the way it uses humour to soften the reality of dementia. Ruth at 75, widowed when her husband dies suddenly of a heart attack, is living alone in their house on the New South Wales coast when one night she’s woken by noises in the house. What she can hear, she thinks, is a tiger in the living room. This is the beginning of Ruth’s decline, and from that point neither she nor the reader is ever entirely sure of what is real and what is imaginary. The story explores Ruth’s consciousness in an empathetic and imaginative way, showing us how the world looks from inside her mind.
McFarlane takes the long history of the tiger as a literary symbol and uses it in a mercurial way to anchor her story of Ruth’s relationship with Frida, who simply turns up one morning claiming she’s been ‘sent by the government’ to act as Ruth’s carer. The two women’s relationship has its swings and roundabouts, with each needing the other and elements of folie à deux creeping into their increasingly strange connection. Frida turns out to be not what she seems, and in her own way is as ambiguous and potentially deadly as the tiger itself. The themes of exploitation and invasion are subtly woven into the main story of ageing and decline, and McFarlane uses the symbolic and the surreal in ways that linger in the reader’s mind long after the book is closed.
Links and Media
- Read a Q&A with Fiona on the Wheeler Centre’s website.
- Read an interview between Fiona and Marc McEvoy in the Sydney Morning Herald.
- Read Justine Jordan’s review for the Guardian.
- Read Lucy Sussex’s review for the Sydney Review of Books.
- Read Catherine Taylor’s review for the Telegraph.
Fiona’s recommendations: The best books by women she read in 2014
Madness: A Memoir by Kate Richards (Penguin)
‘Richards’ account of her experiences with acute psychosis and depression is so illuminating not only because she’s both a wonderful writer and a doctor, but because her sensibility is so generous and precise. I love the intelligent kindness of this book.’
Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin)
‘The short stories of Only the Animals are each incredible acts of imagination, intelligence, compassion and courage, such generous but also clear-eyed interrogations of what it means to be human, how strange that is, how ludicrous and dangerous and complex and at the same time how tender, and all the symbolic and literal ways we’ve entangled non-humans in our persistent humanness. They’re also frequently very, very funny.’
Memorial by Alice Oswald (Faber and Faber)
‘Oswald is one of my favourite living poets, and Memorial is the extraordinary description of every death in the Iliad. It’s beautiful, devastating and timely, but what impresses me most of all is the way Oswald works such intimate magic within an epic tradition.’