Book Review: The Night Guest

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A mesmerizing first novel about trust, dependence, and fear, from a major new writer.

This is the first part of the description for The Night Guest (taken from Goodreads). Mesmerizing for certain as I burned through this in a few short days, and I would also add that it is a very assured first novel. The other descriptors of trust, dependence and fear are right on and perfectly summarizes what to expect from The Night Guest.  This was an excellent read, very well-written and could also use words such as suspenseful and tension-filled, as these were elements found on every page.

Ruth is a 75-year old woman now living alone on her own in her large beach house, the retirement home she used to share with her husband. Her husband Harry has passed away, and her two sons, Philip and Jeffrey are living their own lives with their own families. Philip lives in Hong Kong, so is really only a telephone presence in her life and infrequently at that. Jeffrey lives close enough and is a constant phone presence in Ruth’s life, but more of a just checking in, or brushing off some of her concerns as nonsense. He does not, however, make too many efforts to get to the house to physically check on her.

Ruth is becoming increasingly confused each day and begins to imagine she sees or senses a tiger in her room at night.  Jeffrey laughs this notion off and tells her to simply get some sleep and brushes it off as her thinking it’s her cats prowling at night. He does not however say he’s coming right over or express any concern about her mental well-being, only tentatively states he should come up one weekend to visit her.

One day, out of the blue, a woman dressed all in white – medical looking clothes – pulls up in a taxi in front of Ruth’s home and announces she is the government carer sent to take care of Ruth. Ruth is now completely confused, she had no idea this was requested, assigned or even considered. As well, no, a phone call to Jeffrey confirms he didn’t request a government carer for her either. He is completely willing however to take her credentials over the phone and again doesn’t make a concerted effort to physically come to check on Ruth, or to give a considered review of this mystery woman.

As Frida becomes a stronger presence in Ruth’s life, she finds she is unable to live without her. As a reader, you feel just as confused as Ruth – is she really there to be her carer? Or is this going to turn out to be a case of Ruth being taken advantage of? It points more and more to the oh no, poor Ruth and this really adds to the tension and suspense you feel as you turn each page. You cannot take your eyes off the pages and only want to keep reading how Frida is now controlling many aspects of Ruth’s life.

When Ruth was a child, she lived with her parents in Fiji and there met a young doctor named Richard that she was quite in love with. After all these years, and with the passing of her husband, Ruth reaches out to Richard. He comes one weekend for a visit and wishes for Ruth to come move in with him. This is thwarted however and again by Frida. Just how much so, is revealed more towards the end.

The Night Guest was a real page-turner for me. Again, it was filled with suspense and my stomach was in knots for much of it. In the end I was filled with sadness for Ruth as well.  The one thing I didn’t feel worked very well for me was this whole “tiger” business. I wasn’t sure if there was some sort of symbolic reason for it being there, or if it was an attempt to add a mystical element. Whatever it was meant to be, I didn’t make a strong connection to it, but I did have a strong one for Ruth! 4 stars. Great read. One that leaves you thinking, that’s for certain. I’m looking forward to more from this author!

I also couldn’t help but think if a deeper connection would have occurred had I read this as a group read with the CBC Goodreads Book Club. The dissection of the title “The Night Guest” alone would have sparked much discussion, but also the symbolism, if this was the intention, of the tiger, might have been made clearer for me.

Literary Hoarders Penny rev