Book No 8 (2015) : The Night Guest

Night guestFrom my childhood, I remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where the vain emperor is conned into parading the streets wearing a suit of clothes which is invisible to anyone either unfit for office, or ‘unusually stupid’. Of course, the ruler is actually stark, bollock naked and only one little boy speaks up, primarily because he is too young to understand the significance of not keeping up the charade. Reading ‘The Night Guest’ by Fiona McFarlane reminded me of the story. Only, I am not sure if I am the child in the crowd or an idiot! As with other books I have found which are preceded by pages of plaudits and praise (there are 21 reviews in the front of this paperback), I wonder if a couple of critics thought it was great, then everyone else joined in so they didn’t look daft!

Ruth is an elderly widow living alone in a house by the sea, with just her two cats for company. Her two grown-up sons speak to her infrequently by phone; their mother seems to be ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ At night, Ruth senses a tiger prowling around in her house. Being aware of Ruth’s obviously precarious grip on reality, the reader should be pleased when a government carer named Frida arrives to assist Ruth in her own home. But in fact, Frida is rather a dodgy character, and I was suspicious of her from the outset. Sure enough, as Ruth depends more and more upon Frida, the carer’s behaviour and actions become increasingly sinister.

As a narrator, Ruth is unreliable. Her short-term memory is clearly fading (she forgets to wash her hair) but her recollections of her youth in Fiji are more vivid. She is lonely and isolated, things get confused in her mind and these are presented in well-crafted prose: the author drops subtle hints like a crime thriller writer. I was able to pick up on the inferences and deduce what was actually happening but for me, the writing totally lacked tension. The conclusion of the story was not a psychological cliff-hanger, it was unsurprising. The book hasn’t haunted me. It ‘stalked the mind’ of Sebastian Shakespeare from The Tatler; it just followed me around for a bit. More of a homeless moggy than an awesome big cat.

As you will have figured, I just didn’t understand the hype surrounding this debut novel. As my teenager would say; ‘meh’. Just as Ruth’s tiger is elusive and only shows up at night, so the charms of ‘The Night Guest’ remained largely hidden to me. Don’t trust me on this one; I am obviously totally unfit for the office of amateur blogger!

Book No 17 (2014) : The Spinning Heart

spinning heart I make no secret of the fact that I have fabulous friends. For my birthday, four of my closest book buddies bought me an amazingly thoughtful present – a gift subscription for a local bookshop. Every month, the kind lady at the shop is going to send me a brand new book, chosen by her, taking into account my likes and dislikes etc. So there was a lot of emotional energy invested in my first book, which arrived at the start of April. It was ‘The Spinning Heart’ by Donal Ryan.

As the recession has hit Ireland, the lives of rural inhabitants have been severely affected. The novel tells some of their stories, through 21 separate chapters. Their language is direct; each writer speaks in the first person, straight to the reader. To start with their voices seem dissociated, but as the novella progresses (its only 160 pages long); you begin to understand the connections between the people. Structurally it’s a cleverly composed work. There is no doubt that this is a great book, especially as it’s a debut novel. It has received widespread critical acclaim and rave reviews.

So whilst I am able to acknowledge Ryan’s skill, I did not like the book. Given how much I wanted to like it, I did try really, really hard. It got better towards the middle and the ending, because there are some plot events which I wanted to see irelandconcluded. My main issue was that I couldn’t ‘hear’ the narrators’ voices. The work is largely written in authentic, Irish language: I know very few Irish people with strong accents have never visited the Emerald Isle and have next to no knowledge of its history or customs. Because of this, many of the subtleties and nuances of the vocabulary and narration were completely lost on me, as I struggled to get to grips with the bulk of the work. ‘Bayjasus’ doesn’t pack the same punch if you can’t hear someone shouting it!

I can’t really recommend this book, largely on the basis that I didn’t enjoy it. However, I hesitate to be too harsh as, judging by the reviews and plaudits heaped upon it, I’m in the woeful minority.

Must be a feckin’ eejit.