A Guest Essay by Fiona McFarlane, Author of "The Night Guest"

— A Big Fall Books Preview Selection

My editors' pick for our Big Fall Books Preview was Fiona McFarlane's debut The Night Guest. It's a tender novel about old age and a psychological meditation on isolation, all told with the page-turning pace of a mystery. I can't stop thinking about this book, and every time I look at the cover sitting on my desk, I think about calling my grandparents.

If that doesn't convince you to pre-order this book immediately, Fiona McFarlane has penned us a lovely essay about writing from the perspective of a woman in her seventies, which she based on experiences with both of her grandmothers. Read on!

The Night Guest will be available October 1, 2013.


Ruth, the main character in The Night Guest, is a widow in her mid-seventies; I’m less than half her age. For this reason, I’m often asked how I went about writing her, this woman who was born in the 1930s, has grown children, has retired from life, and is in many respects utterly unlike me. I’m young, and childless, and working. Both my grandmothers lived into old age with various forms of dementia, and I knew and adored and observed them, which I imagine helped me approach Ruth with respect and love. Writing The Night Guest did feel, in some ways, like being in their company. But this autobiographical information reveals almost nothing about how a writer goes about creating a character, which is always an act of creative empathy, whether we’re inventing an elderly woman or a teenage boy or a medieval saint or some great galactic queen — in other words, anyone who isn’t ourselves. Making that leap into another life is one of the loveliest and most difficult things about writing; about living, actually, when you think about it. So writing Ruth was no more or less challenging than the novel’s other main characters — moody, majestic Frida, or courtly, pompous Richard.

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