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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Fascination Of The Powerless

The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

A debut novel that has been appearing on lists of the year's best fiction, The Night Visitor is the story of Ruth, an elderly widow living alone by the sea and suffering from dementia.


Ruth's world is transformed by the arrival on her doorstep one morning of a woman who declares herself to be a new carer and who promptly takes over the entire management of Ruth's life. Unfortunately, as the narrative develops it becomes increasingly clear that this cheerful visitor is not all that she seems.


It's a powerful piece of writing but one that I found extremely difficult to read. Not because it was badly written. On the contrary. The detail is carefully observed and the writing is informed throughout by a poetic sensibility. Reading Fiona McFarlane's prose is a sensual pleasure.


What makes this novel so hard to confront is the content .The narrative is recounted from Ruth's point of view and in the confused logic of her vision  time has become unmoored, memories drift in and out of consciousness and thoughts are indistinguishable from concrete reality. It's an entirely convincing depiction of dementia.


Consequently, the authenticity with which we witness the accumulating evidence of Ruth's abuse and her powerlessness in the face of it makes this novel so disturbing and so unsettling that I could only inch my way through it  with a kind of pained fascination.