The Night Guest: A Novel
256 pages; Faber & Faber
Every once in a while a novel comes along with a plot that reflects a hot topic in the national conversation (for example: how we care for aging parents) which is also written in such a moving way that it provides a fresh, intimate window on the subject. Such a book is The Night Guest, narrated by Ruth—a retired elocution teacher living alone in a beachside cottage. When a younger, charismatic woman named Frida appears at her door, claiming to be a government aide sent to clean the floors and make meals, Ruth invites her in. But as Frida assumes more and more responsibility—running errands, shooing away teenagers, helping out with the sale of the car—you start to wonder if Frida is who she says she is, creating a cycle of doubt (e.g., she isn't!) and hope (e.g.: she is!) that keeps you roller-coastering through the pages to find out the truth. It's McFarlane's sensitive portrayal of Ruth, however, that elevates this story to the unforgettable. Bit by bit she builds a vibrant, seductive world of Ruth's memories, sifting through her childhood in Fiji, her lost love, her appearance at a ball with the Queen of England in a blue, silk dress—only to place it beside the colorless nature of Ruth's current life: take pill, sweep sand off porch. The result? The Night Guest is both a tension-filled read and a moving examination of how the past can sometimes color and even distort our present-day thinking, elderly or not.
— Leigh Newman