The Night Guest

A Novel

Fiona McFarlane

Faber & Faber

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

Ruth is widowed, her sons are grown, and she lives in an isolated beach house outside of town. Her routines are few and small. One day a stranger arrives at her door, looking as if she has been blown in from the sea. This woman—Frida—claims to be a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in.
     Now that Frida is in her house, is Ruth right to fear the tiger she hears on the prowl at night, far from its jungle habitat? Why do memories of childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency? How far can she trust this mysterious woman, Frida, who seems to carry with her own troubled past? And how far can Ruth trust herself?
     The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane’s hypnotic first novel, is no simple tale of a crime committed and a mystery solved. This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about ageing, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn’t be. Here is a new writer who comes to us fully formed, working wonders with language, renewing our faith in the power of fiction to describe the mysterious workings of our minds.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013


Read an Excerpt

Ruth woke at four in the morning and her blurry brain said “Tiger.” That was natural; she was dreaming. But there were noises in the house, and as she woke she heard them. They came across the hallway from the lounge room. Something large was rubbing against Ruth’s couch and television and, she suspected, the wheat-coloured recliner disguised as a wingback chair. Other sounds followed: the panting and breathing of a large animal; a vibrancy of breath that suggested enormity and intent; definite mammalian noises, definitely feline, as if her cats had grown


Praise for The Night Guest

“Enthralling . . . This stellar debut will haunt you—and remind you to call your mother.” —Entertainment Weekly (A-)

“A novel of uncanny emotional penetration; it had me flipping to the back cover more than once to scrutinize the author photo. How could anyone so young portray so persuasively what it feels like to look back on a lot more life than you can see in front of you? . . . A low thrum of terror builds ever so gradually as The Night Guest proceeds, and its source is the slippery connection between the mind and the world . . . What makes The Night Guest especially unnerving is the way it immerses the reader in a mind that is slowly slipping its moorings. As McFarlane depicts it, in clean, sinuous prose, you begin to lose your self by burrowing deeper inside it . . . You’re in [Ruth’s] head, and that head gets less and less sound as the novel progresses, but it’s a strangely delightful place to be, for all the darkness surrounding it.” —Laura Miller, Salon

“Mesmerizing.” —Nylon

“[A] striking debut.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue.com

“I’ve been on a string of reading successes with FSG affiliates Faber & Faber, and this excellent novel, part psychological thriller, part wistful look at aging, is a perfect example . . . McFarlane imbues this suspenseful tale with powerful details and a touching sense of the uncertainty at the twilight of life. There’s something about [The Night Guest] that lingers in my imagination, much like the tiger that Ruth hears rattling around her home. I look forward to [McFarlane’s] future work.” —Megan Sullivan, Head Buyer at Harvard Book Store on her blog The Book Dwarf

“McFarlane wields a lot of clever, literary trickery here, especially for a debut novelist . . . A deeply interior literary thriller—subtle and swift and fragile.” —Kevin Nguyen, Grantland

“An enrapturing debut novel . . . Startling and elegant.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Rich and suspenseful . . . [The Night Guest] is at once a beautifully imagined portrait of isolation and an unsettling psychological thriller.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gothic in sensibility, with a touch of magic realism, this novel feels at once like a classic and a fresh, original tale . . . Fans of psychologically oriented Scandinavian fiction should feel a familiar draw to this first novel, which is already creating significant buzz around the globe.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“McFarlane’s crisp, clean prose is a pleasure to read.” —Booklist (starred review)

“With echoes of the perspective-shifting novels of Iris Murdoch, The Night Guest is a haunting tale of aging and independence.” —Nathan Rostron, Bookish Must-Read Fiction Preview: Best Books for Fall 2013

“I have read the opening paragraph of Fiona McFarlane’s debut novel three times now—at first, slowly; but then with increasing, heart-pounding speed each time—and I am convinced it’s one of the most enticing openings to a novel I’ve read all year.” —David Abrams, The Quivering Pen

The Night Guest is an extraordinary novel. At once a tender thriller and an exquisitely constructed meditation on time and memory, it is propelled by sentence after sentence of masterful prose. With The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane announces herself as a writer to be read, admired, and read again.” —Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds

The Night Guest is such an accomplished and polished debut. There’s a delicacy and poignancy to the writing, combined with almost unbearable suspense. I love books in which I have no idea what’s going to happen next!” —Kate Atkinson, author of Life After Life The Night Guest is deeply disturbing and exquisitely written—full of joy and melancholy—and I willingly accept that I will be haunted by its beauty and its truths for a long time to come. The story is told with a certain inevitability, yet at the same time is surprises, confounds, and torments. A rapturous, fearsome fable of grief and love.” —Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Fiona McFarlane

  • Fiona McFarlane was born in Sydney, Australia. She has degrees in English from Sydney University and Cambridge University, and was a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Sydney.

  • Fiona McFarlane © Andy Barclay




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The Night Guest

A Novel

Fiona McFarlane

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Chicago Tribune Best Books of the Year, L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist, The Stella Prize Shortlist, L.A. Times Book Prize - Finalist


Faber & Faber