Tiger, Tiger in the Night

Jeff’s first clue that something is amiss at his mother’s secluded beach house on the Australian coast comes when he is awakened by her call in the middle of the night; she claims a tiger is prowling the house–she can hear its paws padding down the hall and its breath at her bedroom door.  When a government assigned worker shows up at her house a few days later, he asks to inspect the paperwork, but is relieved that someone will be monitoring Ruth, since he lives several hours away.  Book cover for The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlaneThe worker, Frida appears to be a godsend, helping Ruth with shopping, cleaning, and becoming a companion as she spends more time at the house and assumes more responsibilities.  Widowed just after she and her husband moved to the house and suffering from a painful back, Ruth spends a growing amount of time staring out to sea, lost in memories of her childhood as the daughter of missionaries in Fiji. She imagines that Frida is Fijian, as so may be the visiting tiger and the jungle that encroaches on the area outside her house after dark. She fondly recalls a young doctor who spent time living with her family and rekindles their romance with the help of Frida who is becoming indispensable.  But when did Frida move in, and why does she have Ruth’s father’s box of mementos? Tension builds as Ruth’s  confusion  grows and both she and the reader become suspicious of Frida’s intentions. Ruth spends a harrowing day crawling out of a tiger trap on the beach that she has fallen into after having a disagreement with Frida.  She has clearly been  mistreated and promises she will escape into town and call her son as soon as she is able, but when she arrives in town, she forgets why she’s come.  Australian author McFarlane delivers a heartbreaking debut about the vulnerability of aging and maintaining independence and the murkiness of trust–trusting oneself and others.  While lyrically written, the suspense is so palpable that the book is hard to put down.  Like aging, this book is not for the faint of heart.

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