Saturday, March 22, 2014

Fiona McFarlane's The Night Guest

It takes a while to kick in but as this novel progresses it develops as a subtle and beautifully written portrait of old age, with its rhythms and unsettling disassociations. We see clearly what can only be the main character Ruth's early and painful descent into Alzheimer's.

But there's another powerful dimension to the story - it's quite a brilliantly paced psychological thriller. The sense of menace increases as Frida, the 'carer', is revealed as anything but. Ruth, sensitive, intelligent and not short of money, is a widow residing alone in a large family home by the sea. She becomes increasingly powerless and vulnerable, falling prey by the end to forces well beyond her comprehension and control.

The ending is tragic and ensures the novel as a whole reverberates with meaning. It will stay with you long after you've put it down.

McFarlane's debut novel has been shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize. It won't win it - Clare Wright's The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka ticks too many boxes - but its shortlisting is well deserved. 

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