The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane © 2013 Faber and Faber
Elderly Ruth Field believes a tiger is visiting her home. Then a government-provided caregiver, Frida Young, arrives to help out around Ruth’s house. To the reader, this seems a good stroke of luck for Ruth, whose mental faculties appear to be declining. Ruth resents Frida, at first, but eventually comes to like and depend on her.
Frida may not be the helping hand she claims to be, and might be the true “tiger” in Ruth’s life. The question of whether Frida will ultimately save Ruth from a lonely descent into senility, or dominate and take advantage of the poor old lady, drove this very well written story.
My favorite scenes were where McFarlane showed events through Ruth’s eyes that could be hallucinations, symbolic representations of Frida, or plain reality. They gave Night Guest a mystical quality that placed it a cut above your basic con man thriller. I had a bit of trouble squaring how Ruth never spoke up to her family when she thought Frida was being cruel, because Ruth was portrayed as “with it” most of the time. But the weak vs. strong depiction of Ruth and Frida was still believable. I also could have done without the final clear-up-every-loose-end chapter.
A tense story, two well crafted main characters, some eerie descriptive prose, all canopied by the big begging question about Frida. It definitely worked for me. The Night Guest is staying on my permanent bookshelf.