Monday, October 28, 2013

The Night Guest: Book Review

Published Oct. 1, 2013.
Beyond the glowing fires of home and hearth are a number of horrors we prefer not to examine too closely. However, the Halloween season turns my attention towards things that we usually try to shove into closets, stuff under beds, and lock into attics.

By purposefully attending to our fears during Halloween, do we hope to overcome them? How can we fight the elements that inhabit our worst nightmares?

In an effort to better guard myself against the scarier aspects of aging, I picked up a copy of The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane.  Her novel asks, Can an older adult manage her own life? Or is she too frail, vulnerable, and weak? And scarier still this question:  Is an older adult even incapable of perceiving her own situation accurately?

In this 241 page novel,  we meet Ruth, a 75-year-old widow living with her cats in a beach house on an isolated stretch of the Australian coastline. Ruth has two sons, but they live abroad: one in New Zealand, the other in Hong Kong.

For a few years following her husband's death, Ruth has created a comfortable routine in her cozy, little beach cottage.  But then one night, she senses the presence of a tiger in her home.  Is something really moving around in the darkness of her home? Is it just one of her cats? Is she merely dreaming? Or is she losing her mind?

Shortly after sensing a tiger, Ruth finds Frida at her front door, offering to help around the house for an hour or two each morning.  This sturdy, confident woman explains, "The government sent me."  And with this, a relationship between caregiver and older adult begins.

The Night Guest is a psychological thriller set within the time frame of an older person's decline. That's already a space that scares the readers.  Usually we just don't think much about our own declining years.

McFarlane makes us face the fears we have about aging: social isolation, mobility problems, unmet transportation needs, dependence on medications, loss of privacy, unmet intimacy needs, increased costs of care, and financial exploitation.

What fear is front and center in this novel? Age-related cognition problems. Ruth must ask herself repeatedly, What is real? What is a memory? What is a dream? What is imagined?

As the novel progresses, the relationship between caregiver and older adult becomes more intense and more complex.  We see the relationship and the events in the beach cottage through Ruth's eyes. Ruth must sort through a flood of sensory perceptions in order to judge what is true and what is nonsense. And as readers, we are looking right over her shoulder.

Even with a caregiver in the house, the tiger continues to stalk Ruth. She hears its breath, smells its jungle scent, and sees its saliva on the furniture.  Is Ruth just imagining this danger? Or is there something dangerous ready to pounce upon our protagonist?  And will Frida protect her?

So if you are looking for a scary book to read during the Halloween season, forget those paranormal romances featuring ingenues contending with supernatural creatures.  Instead, read Night Guest and pull the monster Father Time out of the darkness and look closely at his accompanying horrors.


Books about Aging


  1. Great review! This does seem scary in a more realistic way than we normally think of for Halloween.

  2. Oh, I loved this book. My kids had to make their own dinner so that I could finish it. Thanks for stopping by the blog, Joy.