The Nght Gst CvrWe often lament about life in a perfect world. Well in a perfect world there would be no death, no old age, no hunger- or would there? Of course there would. After a while the place would get over crowded if that was the case. But would people have enough money, food? Would there be no homelessness, crime, cruelty etc. ?

If it really existed could we live in such a wonderful place? Wouldn’t we get sick of it after a while? Well we don’t have to worry about it, our world isn’t totally perfect. We have crime, hunger and war.  We have people who prey on the weak because they know they can, owing to the fact that our law is an ass in certain respects and so the indefensible get lost and fall between the cracks of our hulking, overburdened legal systems. This brings us on to this month’s book, it’s The Night Guest by Fiona Mcfarlane.

Ruth is an elderly widow living in New South Wales, Australia. She lives by herself in a small bungalow overlooking the sea and may suffer from the early stages of dementia as she thinks there’s a tiger loose in her house. This is possibly a convoluted memory from her youth growing up in Fiji. She often disturbs her son by calling him in the early hours of the morning to tell him she hears the tiger. One day a yellow cab pulls up outside the house and moments later Frida appears at the back door with a suitcase in tow, telling Ruth the government have sent her to look after her. Initially Ruth accepts this along with her sons. Over time certain strange things start to happen and then Ruth discovers Frida has been living in her spare room. Their relationship goes from one of initial acceptance on Ruth’s part to distrust and subtle hostility, not forgetting the all but non-existent tiger in the midst of this.

This is both an intriguing and harrowing book to read, from the start you really want to see where the whole tiger story line will go (it doesn’t), but then rather quickly it turns into an elderly abuse story line as certain things don’t really add up. The fact that Frida says that the government have sent her to be Ruth’s carer was the first alarm bell for me. Nowhere that I know of, especially in Australia, do the government send carers to elderly people’s private homes.  It would cost too much. Especially with the elderly population across the world increasing significantly owing to the increase in life expectancy.

At first you start questioning what’s going on between the two of them and whether anything untoward is happening. After a while though when things become quite obvious you feel helpless to what is going on, especially when Ruth is forced by Frida to withdraw a large sum of money from her account. You are hoping a friend, a neighbour. the bank or even her family will step in and stop this sham. It reminded me of the sexual assault public Service advert on UK TV recently; the young rapist is seen reliving the act again from behind a pane of glass and banging helplessly on it, yelling at his alternate self to stop.

The incident at the bank, was one of the main flaws that came up in the book group discussion, because I would have thought an elderly woman withdrawing a couple of hundred thousand Australian dollars from her bank would ring a few alarm bells, especially if she is presumed by her family to have early signs of dementia. But no, and this is the point at which things start to unravel on both sides.

Fi McFarlane 1

Fiona McFarlane


This is Australian author Macfarlane’s first of two books. The Night Guest was published in 2013 by Hamish Hamilton in Australia and in the UK by Sceptre in 2014, her second book The High Places – a compilation of short stories is due for publication in February 2016.

The book at times had resonances to Lord of The Flies, with Simon, Ralph and Piggy in the form of Ruth and Jack and the grown up boys represented by Frida and the island is the house.

The love interest, if you can call it that is a nice interlude and again you want it to lead toLord of the flies cvr a nice happy ending, but alas again you are left wondering is this just something brought on by either Ruth’s faltering memory or Frida’s possible drugging of Ruth to keep her quiet. The whole book is just like Emma Donoghue’s Room. It’s subject matter is something we’d hate to read about in a newspaper, but have to all too often. As a book though it is the basis of an interesting if at times uncomfortable read, but unlike Room, there isn’t really a happy outcome of sorts.

The book, does leave you with a lot of interesting questions, which led to a healthy debate among the book group especially when you ask yourself the question, is Ruth really suffering from dementia? Could the sons have done more, or are they guilty of neglect? But in the end the real judge and jury is the reader and so off you pop to your local book store or download it and make your own mind up.



The Paris Archtct CvrIt may be one of most romantic cities in the world, but with what has been visited upon the French capital in the past twelve months, you’d think I’d be turned off going there. On the contrary, this makes me more determined than ever to fan the flames of love in its various arrondissements, walking hand in hand along the banks of the Seine or sittiing outside it’s cafe’s and boulangeries drinking coffee and nibbling fresh flaky croissants while admiring the architecture. Thus bringing us on to this month’s book – it’s The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure.

As Lucien Bernard the Architect of the title, rounds a corner of a street in Paris he almost bumps into a man running in the opposite direction. In the split second that it takes for the man to pass, Lucien notices that he is wearing the same cologne as himself. He hears a gun shot, turning he sees the man is lying dead on the pavement behind him, blood pouring from his head. He is a Jew.

This opening scene from “The Paris Architect” reflects the tone of the book.  Set in 1940’s Nazi-occupied Paris, the book explores the intersection of normal, everyday life with the terror of living-on-the-edge, where being in the wrong place at the wrong time could mean death, torture or deportation to a prison camp.

The book’s central character, Lucien, is a handsome young architect battling with the deprivations of occupied Paris – little work, scarcity of food, rationing. Self-centered and egotistical, as the story begins Lucien is frustrated that the war has deprived him of the opportunity to display his modernist architectural talents and, in the process, becoming rich and renowned, achieving the social status and acclaim that he, by his own lights, truly deserves.

On the morning of the shooting, Lucien is heading for a fateful meeting with a rich industrialist, Auguste Manet. He is expecting a commission to design an armaments factory for the German military. Manet’s proposition is, however, entirely different. He wants Lucien to incorporate a secret hiding place in an apartment that is to be used to accommodate a Jewish friend until he can be moved to safety.  Lucien’s horror at being asked to do such a dangerous task is only slightly assuaged by the very large sum of money that Manet offers. Even the indication that this would lead to the expected factory commission does little to persuade Lucien to take on such a suicidal job. The hook that reels him in is the architectural challenge. He envisages an elegant solution, an ingenious hiding place that no Gestapo search party would find…

So begins Lucien’s transformation. As his fascination for devising architectural solutions

Priest hide

Inspiration – A Priest Hole

draws him into a life-threatening web of secrecy and intrigue, Lucien’s arrogant self-confidence is challenged by tragedy and by exposure to the self-sacrifice and bravery of others. A very unlikely hero emerges.


Lucien is soon leading a double life – surreptitiously visiting apartments to design hiding places while also socialising with German officers to progress his factory proposals. As his life becomes more and more dangerously complicated – he becomes friends with a Wehrmacht officer, the Paris Resistance targets him as a collaborator, his mistress takes a Gestapo lover, he takes in an orphaned Jewish boy  – the tension and terror heightens.

And it isn’t only Lucien’s life that generates nail-biting tension. Balfoure’s description of the coldly casual brutality of Nazi killing of civilians is truly shocking, bringing home what it must be like to live under a reign of terror.

It also raises uncomfortable questions for the reader. What would we do if we were faced with a similar situation? Would we risk our life and those of our family to protect others from atrocity? Or would we adopt Lucien’s wife approach that “in wartime, Christian brotherhood takes a back seat to saving one’s own skin.”

Balfoure’s description of the sadism of the Gestapo and the grotesque consequences for those found helping Jews – and even those who are only living in the same apartment block – brings into sharp focus why it was that ordinary people in Germany and occupied Europe looked the other way and ‘allowed’ unconscionable atrocities to be carried out all around them. I, unfortunately, have to admit that I would do the same.


Charles Belfoure

An architect by profession, this is Balfoure’s first book of two works of fiction, published in 2013, the other is House of Thieves published last year ( The idea for Lucien’s ‘hook’ is based on the actual incorporation of secret hiding places for persecuted priests in houses of Catholic sympathizers during the reign of Elizabeth 1st.    Balfoure’s own love of architectural problem-solving is evident throughout. Although spatially challenged, even I found his descriptions of the design of hiding places compellingly fascinating, making Lucien’s risk taking and subsequent transformation wholly believable.

Written with a true story-teller’s flair, the narrative unfolds at a fast, page-turning pace – until close to the end, which is disappointingly clichéd (written with a film deal in mind?).  Despite this one reservation, it’s a really good thought-provoking read.


We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers and followers on the various social media a very happy New Year. Thanks for stopping by and for spreading the word. We hope you enjoy the book reviews that we’ve have left  beyond The Library Door  and will continue to leave over 2016. Adrian