Interview questions Angela Sanchez Vicente
Translation Alejandra Elisseche
Fiona McFarlane´s debut as a novelist shows us a world full of fear, self-improvement, and the battle against aging.
Must people be either good or bad? Is everything black or white? Are there gray areas?
In “El convidat nocturn” (The Night Guest), we can deeply assess human beings and get in touch with our feelings. Relationships difficulties and confidence give this book an introspective perspective.
Angle Editorial makes our approach to the writer and the person within it possible.
Let her introduce herself!
When did you realize that the world of words was waiting for you? I was a very lucky child – both of my parents read to me every day, and my mother worked in a bookstore before becoming a children’s librarian. I understood that real people wrote books and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be one of those people. In fact, I wrote my first “novel” at the age of six. It was eleven chapters long and called ‘The Fake God.’ The mother dies on the second page, which my own mother has never quite forgiven me for, but I knew how fairytales worked: that one or both parents has to die in order to get the plot moving.
This novel has had an overwhelming success in terms of reviews and sales. Was this success a surprise for you? It’s all been a wonderful surprise. When you’re writing a book, you’re completely alone with it. You hope readers will exist for it at some time in the future, but I find it best not to think about that as I write; I need to stay in conversation with the work as it unfolds, rather than my future hopes for it. Then, after all this solitary time, it’s so gratifying to find that readers really respond to the story you have to tell.
We consider you one of the most respected foreigner writers in current literature. Could you tell us, in your personal opinion, who would you add to that category? Thank you! The living writer whose mind and work I most respect is Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’ and most recently ‘Lila’. I love both her fiction and her essays. She writes with great beauty, intelligence and compassion.
How did the idea of a helpless woman as the plot´s core come up? I heard about an elderly man whose cleaner convinced him they were married and tried to move into his house. Unfortunately it wasn’t the first story of this kind I’d encountered – you read about them all the time – but this one touched me particularly because the man’s daughter was living overseas at the time, and so was I. At the same time, I was thinking about a separate idea in which a woman came to believe her house was haunted by a tiger. When I heard the story about the elderly man, the two ideas came together, and the woman’s dementia began to make (partial) sense of the tiger. So Ruth, my main character, was born. I don’t think of her as entirely helpless. She does become more and more dependent as the book goes on, but she remains opinionated, forceful and funny, and her mind is very powerful, even as it’s altered by dementia.
What would you have thought about Frida when she first came up? Frida arrived almost fully formed. I knew right away that she needed to take up a lot of space, both physically and temperamentally, but that it should be difficult to define that space, which is why she changes her hair so often and is so moody. Some people suspect her from the very beginning and others are as enthralled by her as Ruth is. Writing Frida’s dialogue and the physicality of her movements were two of the great pleasures of working on the book.
Are you afraid of aging? Of course. There are things I look forward to about aging and I think healthy older age has the potential to be wonderful. I don’t look forward to the losses that come with time, but what I really fear is infirm old age and particularly dementia, which we often misunderstand and mismanage. Both my grandmothers suffered from it, and although dementia isn’t usually hereditary, I still have a superstitious fear that it’s in store for me.
What do you think about the people that take advantage of those who are weaker? I think they’re despicable, but there’s often a fascinating story behind an individual who chooses to deceive another with such cowardice and cunning, and that’s a large part of what drew me to the idea of The Night Guest. There’s rarely a fascinating story behind the systematic, institutionalized exploitation of the weak, which is so powerful precisely because it’s so faceless. But when we get to see the face of a predator like Frida, it’s intriguing to explore her complexities and ambiguities
Without revealing the end, can you tell us if you believe that Ruth has given a clear lesson to the entire society? A lot of people tell me that they call their mothers as soon as they finish the novel, and I love the idea of all those conversations taking place because of my book. I hope reading it makes people reflect with compassion and patience on the way we approach old age and aged care; I particularly love to hear from people involved in aged and dementia care who have found my book respectful, illuminating and unsentimental. Many people mention the darkness of The Night Guest, but I love when readers respond to the fact that Ruth ends the book without fear. For me, Ruth’s approach to and management of her fear is the most important story in the novel.
Imagine that you can have dinner with a master of thrillers. Who would you sit in front of you? Patricia Highsmith. I’d be fascinated to observe the elegance and intelligence of her brain as it worked in real time.
Finally, we would like you to answer our trade mark question. Which is the question that you have never been asked? Can you answer it?
Have you ever stolen anything? I once took fifty cents (which at the age of about eight was a significant sum) from my father’s pocket change and felt so guilty about it (later, having spent it on chocolate) that the next time I had fifty cents I fabricated a whole story about having found it on the floor near where he kept his change and gave it to him. That was the beginning and end of my career as a thief. When I was writing The Night Guest I arranged to meet with a bank employee in order to ask her what would be the best way to steal a lot of money from an old person. She seemed rather suspicious of the whole thing! But she still told me.
Thanks for your time and attention. We really love your novel.
Wishing lots of success,
Angela Sanchez Vicente
Translation: Alejandra Elisseche