REVIEW: THE NIGHT GUEST, BY FIONA MCFARLANE

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Ruth Field is a widow in her mid-seventies, navigating the uncertain life that is hers without her husband Harry. In the years since his sudden death, she has formed some routines that carry her through the days, but sometimes, at night, she is awakened by what seem to be noises. At one point, she thinks of a tiger. She is afraid.

In the light of day, her fear fades away. But one morning, after a disturbing night, a woman appears at her door, announcing she is a caregiver sent by the government. Frida seems to be the efficient answer to Ruth’s needs, rigorously cleaning and organizing and cooking. Soon she is taking over the shopping and bill-paying. She is a strange mix of nurturing and cruel, in my opinion. She has a way of creating fears where there were none, and gradually Ruth is isolated, dependent, and fearful, all at the same time. Her confusion grows, and the uncertainties are fueled by Frida’s behavior.

Why does Ruth allow this strange woman to take over her home, her life, and her future? How is Frida able to finally persuade Ruth to do something so outrageous, when a part of Ruth—the part that has clarity—just wants Frida to go away?

A gripping and emotional read that reminded me of all the fragile people in the world, from the children to the aged, whose well-being can be destroyed in subtle ways by the very people who are charged with protecting them.

Set in Australia, but also flashing back to Ruth’s childhood in Fiji, The Night Guest: A Novel was easy to engage with and settle into. I wanted to protect Ruth fiercely, and felt such animosity towards Frida that I could scarcely contain myself. And the benevolent neglect of Ruth’s sons was appalling, even as I could understand how events came to this state.

In the end, some facts come to light, but long before then, I knew who Frida was and what she was about. Glaring red flags went up the moment she walked in, and I just wanted Frida out of Ruth’s home, wishing Ruth could once again have her small and simple life with her familiar routines. Five stars.

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