Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review of The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest
Fiona McFarlane

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (October 1, 2013)
  • 3/5 stars

I received the advanced copy of this novel from the Amazon Vine program in return for my honest review.

This begins as a gentle, charming novel about a 70-something lady dealing with aging, memory and love--as well as what she thinks is a tiger roaming her home at night. It then becomes a psychological thriller about trust, deception and abuse.

McFarlane writes well; her character are fully fleshed out and her descriptions bring the setting to life. With one notable exception, the situations are completely believable, and could easily happen. Even the magical realism of the tiger incidents are well done.

I'm not adverse to reading uncomfortable novels; in fact, Lolita is one of my favorites, due to Nabokov's exquisite skill. However, I found The Night Guest so disturbing that McFarlane's prose could not make this a "good read" for me.

One a more personal note:

I can not stress how disturbing this novel is; it made my stomach hurt and I had to skim several chapters as the end neared.  

At the risk of spoiling it for a potential reader, I have to say that it focuses around the abuse of an elderly woman by a trusted caregiver.  It is not at all what I expected from reading the blurb. McFarlane just isn't a good enough writer to take a topic like that and make it readable for me.  I've tried to understand why I can find Lolita an amazing novel, and yet be so squeamish about this one.  As my husband pointed out, it could be because that Nabakov is not graphic and the psychological abuse in The Night Guest was explicit.  All I know is that when I pulled off the pretty paper of McFarlane's writing, all that was left was gut-wrenching abuse.  When I pull off the pretty paper of Nabokov's writing, I see so much more.

I did give it three stars, though, because McFarlane does write well.  My review is the lowest given at this point, however, so maybe I just wasn't a good fit for it.


  1. OMG sounds like a chilling story
    I always get scared in books where I identify with the protagonist and we are in a helpless situation

    1. Exactly! It's the helplessness that makes this one so horribly disturbing.