The Night Guest

Fiona McFarlane, Author
Fiona McFarlane. FSG/Faber and Faber, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-86547-773-5
Reviewed on: 07/08/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
A widow contends with loneliness and the subtle indignities of old age in McFarlane’s rich and suspenseful debut. At 75, Ruth Field lives alone in the Australian seaside home she once shared with her husband, Harry. Hers is a structured and solitary existence, punctuated by obligatory calls from her adult sons and the occasional sounds of an imagined jungle tiger strolling through her parlor at night. One morning, the commanding Frida Young arrives, claiming to have been sent by the government as a personal aide. Ruth must adjust her once orderly routine to “Valkyric” Frida, who can “fix everything” and yet is “always wanting... without ever quite admitting it.” Together the women explore the vulnerabilities of loneliness and aging, even as clues mount that Frida is not who she claims to be. In Ruth’s small and tightly inhabited world, McFarlane gives a flourish to even the smallest observations: Frida exhales through her nose “with an equine vigor”; Ruth’s furniture appears “almost anxious for her approval, as if... waiting for her forgiveness, dressed in its very best clothes.” This book is at once a beautifully imagined portrait of isolation and an unsettling psychological thriller. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Company. (Oct.)