One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall, the residence of the Ayres family for more than two centuries. Its owners, mother, son and daughter, are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as conflicts of their own. But the Ayreses are haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life.
Our narrator, Dr. Faraday, is summoned to Hundreds to care for the Ayres' maid, and his life is soon linked to that of the mysterious house. As a child, Dr. Faraday cast Hundreds Hall as a symbol of all that was missing from his working-class upbringing, and it pains him to see the once great house in disrepair. Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, and her daughter Caroline, barely make ends meet, and the failing estate takes its toll on them all. Then, as Dr. Faraday enters the lives of Ayres, strange things begin to happen. Is the house haunted? Are the Ayreses under some sore of "taint"? Or is their way of life just one more thing made redundant in post-WWII society?
Waters is certainly a very talented author, writing with fluid, descriptive prose. The Little Stranger is compelling, and yes, a little scary. Psychologically, Waters messes with the minds of her readers, just as she does with her characters. I'm still unsure of what was really occurring at Hundreds, and I don't think I will ever make up my mind - which is probably Waters' intention.
I've read several less-than-positive reviews of The Little Stranger, so let me take the opposing view. I loved this book. It might not be the most literary entry on the Booker Longlist, but it was certainly entertaining. I flew through the 460+ pages, and was totally satisfied by the ambiguous ending. Waters tone is perfect - like the inhabitants of Hundreds, I felt the creepy, watchful eyes of the house, and never knew what was coming next (though I knew it would be bad). Beyond the basic plot, The Little Stranger is also a portrait of an altered society and a dying class struggling to stay afloat - so really, maybe it is a "ghost" story after all.
He soon finds out, however, as he grows closer and more fond of the family, that that air of old gentry is fading fast. Now the Hundreds is a crumbling house, full of defects, moist, holes and sealed off rooms. It’s inhabitants, though gentry, can hardly afford to keep it inhabitable. In fact, this whole house now only houses four people. Mrs Ayres, fragile since the death of her first child, and full of memories of times gone. Rod, now head of the estate, but injured in the war and now struggling under the task. Betty, the servant – the only resident staff the family can afford. And level-headed but stubborn Catherine, who really dreams of another sort of life, and becomes close to Faraday.
Four people in a big, old, decaying house. And perhaps something else as well. A little stranger, wicked and petty and angry.
This is a real slow-burner of a ghost story. We’re well over a hundred pages in before something even remotely odd happens. And even after that, Waters keeps her hand close, working subtly and sparsely, with really only a handful of events. The tension and horror builds ever so slowly, and our narrator, even at the end of it all, doesn’t even believe in ghosts. If you need blood-spurting action and thrills, this is not for you.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a creepy book. The pushing of the Ayres to the limit and beyond is scary at times. But the focus is more on the characters, very thoroughly and believably drawn, and their relationships to each other. And to the shifting time; Waters does a beautiful job of capturing a post-WW2 England where the old landowning gentry is rapidly losing ground, and everything is still in rations. Toss Faraday with his class itch and strange attraction to this very house (becoming a less and less reliable fellow as the book progresses) into the mix, and you have a book that would be a good read even without the ghost. But which benefits greatly from that pinch on insecurity, madness and horror.
If you need quick payoff and clear resolution, look elsewhere. Otherwise, I really recommend this.
Dr. Faraday offers to treat Roderick's war injury with an experimental procedure, free of charge. And thus he inserts himself into the life of Hundreds Hall, and gets all up in their business. He worries endlessly about Mrs. Ayers, and begins to fancy Caroline. At least that's what he tells us, because Robert is the story's narrator. He spends more and more time at Hundreds Hall. When Mrs. Ayers decides to give a party, the first in years, he finds himself on the guest list -- unusual due to their different social classes. Things begin to unravel at the party, when the family dog Gyp bites a young guest and leaves her severely disfigured. Progressively weirder things happen, with progressively greater impact on the emotional well-being of the Ayers family members. And Hundreds Hall falls into an even greater state of disrepair. It appears some sort of ghost is terrorizing the household, and it's very creepy indeed.
I was constantly torn while reading this book. My literary mind wanted to believe there was a ghost because after all, this is a gothic mystery/ghost story. My rational, analytical side dismissed that as nonsense and looked for a rational, analytical cause for all these mishaps. When I finished the book, I still wasn't sure. The ending is such that Waters might have given me the rational answer, which gave the story a chilling psychological thriller angle. Or she didn't, and there was just a lot of inexplicable weird and creepy stuff going on.
If I could rewrite the ending, I know what I'd do. But I can't tell you; you'll have to read this book and form your own conclusions. I ended up docking my rating 1/2 star because it all left me rather frustrated.
Inside Hundreds Hall lives the Ayres family, who is struggling to keep their farm profitable after World War II. The once-grandiose home was falling apart – and taking the family down with it. We meet the family through Dr. Faraday, a country doctor who came to Hundreds Hall on a house visit. He starts to treat Roderick Ayres for his wartime knee injury, but it became apparent that Roderick was suffering from more – a type of severe mental stress that was affecting him day by day. Roderick claims something in the house was trying to hurt his family – and this something was leaving burn marks all over his room. Roderick’s delusions and paranoia rob him of all logic, and he becomes the house’s first victim.
As Dr. Faraday helps the family with Roderick’s illness, he gets closer and closer to Mrs. Ayres and Roderick’s sister, Caroline. The weight of caring for Hundreds Hall is great, and Dr. Faraday does what he can to ease their burdens. Despite his best efforts, the house continues to affect the family – first with the haunting of poor Mrs. Ayres and then Caroline. The whole time, the family believes the house was to blame. However, many in the community chalk it up to the Ayres’ reluctance to adjust to the new order of things in England. Others claim it was a “family taint” – a mental condition that struck all of the family members. Whatever the cause, the family was on an unstoppable downward spiral.
The Little Stranger, in a word, was spine-tingling. Certain scenes left me white-knuckled and near sleepless. It was the perfect book for cool autumn nights. Many were disappointed in the book’s ending, but I thought it was somehow appropriate. Waters left it as mysterious as Hundreds Hall itself. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the mysterious, the old and the creepy. The Little Stranger has it all.
Although Waters give a fine picture of the post-World War II decaying aristocracy and the working of a troubled mind, and her writing is fine enough, I just wasn't blown away by [The Little Stranger]. For me, it really dragged on at several points, and I was almost getting impatient to be done with it.
brief summary, no spoilers:
It's just after WWII, in rural Warwickshire, and a Dr. Faraday has been called to Hundreds Hall, home of the Ayres family. The Ayres had been there over two centuries. Dr. Faraday himself (the narrator of this story -- depending on how you read this, you may or may not be able to trust him) had been there before, when he was a child. His mother had even been in service there, and had once, on a fete day, brought him in through the kitchen. Since then he's held the Ayres and Hundreds Hall in high esteem, as an example of what it must be like to be upper class. Now he's there to look in on one of the servants. As he enters the Hall, he is struck with its decline and decay. He meets the family -- there's Mrs. Ayres, who even though the family's had to sell off a lot of land to make ends meet and times have moved on, still in some measure considers herself continuing to live on in her old upper class world (you could say she's living in a bit of denial); Caroline, her daughter, who is plain, goes about looking frumpy, doing much of the work that a houseful of servants used to do in Hundreds' glory days, and stays at Hundreds for her mother's sake; and finally, there's Roderick, who has come home emotionally and physically changed from the war. The weight of the family's survival is on Roderick's shoulders and he struggles with his responsibility constantly. The family cannot just chuck it all -- they're kind of stuck, in part because of the old upper class attitude and their history there, and in part because most of their money is tied up in keeping what little they have left. There is a servant girl, Betty, who lives there around the clock, and another woman who comes in as well. Faraday is a doctor in the area, dreading the coming nationalizing of health services; he feels somewhat inferior to the other doctors because of his lower-class background. After Faraday's visits, he manages to insinuate himself into the life of the Ayres family, visiting there on a regular basis.
Things begin to go amiss when Mrs. Ayres decides to have a small party for her new neighbors the Hyde-Bakers, who have bought one of the nearby estates. (I loved this scene -- you really get a feel for what's happening in postwar England social-class wise -- the old landed gentry are on the decline while the up and comers are buying up their old estates, and the social attitudes leave a huge gap between the two groups. ) But the party marks the spot in which some pretty inexplicable (?) things begin to occur, and which are taking their toll on all of the people in the house. I won't say more so as not to wreck things.
Quite gothic in tone, very chilling, and well written, The Little Stranger is a very nice piece of writing. Each character stands out, and the atmosphere is incredibly claustrophobic. I liked it, actually, quite a bit. If you're looking for a chilling psychological read, it's outstanding. If you're looking for Tipping the Velvet, you're not going to get it. So just relax, enjoy and prepare to find yourself unable to stop reading.
The Little Stranger is set in post-WWII Warwickshire, in one of those stately homes that are now all owned by the National Trust. The Hundreds has fallen on hard times, with not enough money or servants to keep the decaying house up. Dr. Faraday, a struggling GP, is called out there one day and meets the last of Ayres family and gets drawn into their struggles to keep their legacy. He becomes a family friend and a witness to their downfall, as each family member becomes sure there is something malevolent working through the house...
Waters is an amazing writer, able to do pretty much anything. Here, she develops a world in which the old hierarchies are crumbling, but the old class resentments remain. She writes in the voice of a doctor whose parents had to struggle to get him his education, who is all too aware that he lacks the connections of the other doctors and has been set apart from his working class roots. The menace rises slowly, and Waters takes her time to allow it to bubble to the surface naturally. This is a quieter book than Fingersmith, but no less rewarding.
Were the strange and tragic events at Hundreds Hall caused by the ghost of a dead child, a poltergeist linked to the presence of a homesick adolescent maid, a taint of ancestral madness, the phantasm of a living person obsessed by the house (whether through wanting to possess the house, or wanting to escape from it), or by the house itself complaining of neglect? I quite like the fact that you never find out what has caused the strange events at Hundreds Hall, although the last few pages do seem to point in one direction.
Both the family and their servants realise that it is the Ayres family who are being targetted. The servants may be teased and frightened, but it is only members of the family who are harmed. 'I haven't done nothing,' she said, 'and I haven't said nothing! I don't like to think of it, anyhow. It makes me frit if I think about it when I'm downstairs on me own. It isn't my bad thing, that's what Mrs Bazeley says. If I don't go bothering him, she says, he won't come bothering me.'
I found Doctor Faraday quite creepy. He worms his way into the household, and seems not to see how much of a burden the decrepit house is to the Ayres family. Or rather, he does not want to see it, and no matter how many times they mention it, he brushes their worries aside. I noticed that it is shortly after he hears that Rod may possibly stop him from using the short-cut across the park, that Faraday started to push for Rod being committed, either voluntarily or against his will. Rod has to be got rid of because he is the one who keeps reminding his mother and sister of Faraday's social inferiority, and I don;t think he would ever have countenanced Faraday courting his sister. So I am leaning towards the trigger being the arrival of Doctor Faraday; maybe his obsessions did lead to the creation of a phantasm, but maybe he gave events the odd push himself, either consciously or not.
Although it is hard to tell Faraday's real motivation because he is the one telling the story, and no doubt twisting it to put himself in a better light, I don't think he loves Caroline at all. I think that in order to raise his social status and get his hands on Hundreds Hall, he is willing to put up with her plain looks, but only as long as she conducts herself as a member of the landed gentry should. He seems to actively hate her whenever he sees her covered in dirt doing housework like a maid, His obsession with the decaying house that is in reality a millstone round the Ayres' neck is senseless. It is not as if he is 'new money' riding to the rescue, like Caroline's ugly but extremely wealthy great-grandmother; he is a struggling doctor from working-class roots, who doesn't even own his own house. With him as head of the family and refusing obdurately to sell up, Hundreds Hall would have continued to fall apart, eating up the family's remaining capital and leaving them with nothing.
But he still got what he wanted in the end.
It is all these things as it charts the decline of an old country house and how the family who live there are affected.
But I thought this book was mostly about the narrator. He is the village doctor whose mother was once a maid at the old house. He starts off as an honest and independent observer. But as his involvement with the family grows, his story-telling becomes less reliable. There are very subtle shifts, barely noticeable but perfectly done.
This book is a great story, well-told, a bit of history, a bit of spookiness and a fascinating character study.
One you want to read again to see what you missed first time round.
And 'the little stranger', indeed, turned out to be what/whom I thought it to be. It made sense, it fit perfectly........but I didn't like it. Not that I didn't like it in the read. I think it had to be that way.
The story is one of a doctor who comes to the village and in his work, he falls for the sister of one of his patients. Eventually they plan to marry but things occur and continue to occur that keep putting the wedding at bay.
The house of his patient is one of the old 'great houses' and I think the good doctor falls in love with the house as well even though it is in ill repair. Things fall through in the end, literally..............and we are rather back where we began but with our head still in the story.
The entire book is rather a head-game with the characters and with the reader as well. I liked it a great deal and would have loved it if the character, Caroline, had been more believable to me. Still and all it was a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.
I picked up this book for a number of reasons but also as an introduction for me to the works of Waters as I haven't read any of her books before now.
Told from the point of view of Dr. Faraday, I loved this Gothic 'atmospheric' tale of the life, family and curiously baffling events that occur at Hundreds Hall over the course of one year. The story has a beautifully slow, suspenseful build to it and watching the events unfold through Dr. Faraday's eyes with his deeply rooted scientific-based rational mind kept me reading late into the night. Not that I agreed with Dr. Faraday and his viewpoints of the events but this was one of those times where my disagreement with his assessment motivated me to read further. I felt there was a nice balance to the story with the characters, the scenery and the plot blending perfectly. Waters maintains her control over the story - some may find the story too controlled and as such, not to their liking - but I found the slow, steady, almost ploddingly build worked really well for me as a reader and added to my overall enjoyment of the story. I am now on the hunt for similar books to this one and [The Thirteenth Tale], another favorite of mine.
The story is narrated by Dr. Faraday, a country doctor in Warwickshire, England, who relates his growing involvement with the local gentry, the Ayres family, and their ancestral home, Hundreds Hall. Faraday begins his tale appropriately enough, in the interwar war years, just after the close of World War I. The doctor recalls a celebration hosted by the Ayres’ for which the entire countryside turned out. During the festivities, he slipped into the hall to admire it and, taken with the place, pried a sculpted acorn from a wall: The first of many visits to the hall, though nearly 30 years would pass before he again set foot in the house. When Faraday does return, it is by accident--his partner, the Ayres’ usual physician, is unavailable--and set against the dreary backdrop of postwar England--of bleakness and rationing--which seem to be reflected in the steadily declining fortunes of the Ayres family and the much-transformed (and increasingly decrepit) Hundreds Hall. Thus begins Faraday’s tragic involvement with the Ayres and with Hundreds itself.
It’s from this humble acorn that a mighty oak doth grow. (Pardon the pun.) Waters cleverly settles upon first person narration, resulting in a subjective perspective of the story; the reader can never be sure what is real and what isn’t. Likewise, Faraday is a doctor, a professional man of science and an authority figure whose opinions carry weight, a fact of no little significance in a supernatural tale. After all, whom would you believe: Roderick Ayres, the stressed family scion and shell-shocked World War II vet, or the steady if bland Dr. Faraday? The choice is clear--most of the time, anyway.
Waters beautifully captures postwar England. Faraday’s voice is spot-on; if it’s not the voice of a postwar middle-aged Englishman, it’s what we in the twenty-first century imagine that voice to have been. (American readers, such as myself, will be much taken with what we perceive as quaint twentieth century Anglicisms.) But Waters’ strength is not limited only to Faraday’s voice. Waters can paint a scene, and invites the reader into the English countryside, the cheerful little homes in the village and, especially, the sprawling, decaying manse of Hundreds Hall. She is a keen observer of human nature, and the main characters are all well-drawn, though Faraday, of course, is the most complex of all.
The Little Stranger is not just a ghost story but also a commentary on the British class system. Faraday, a doctor born of a laboring family, tends to the Ayres, fading gentry, and the place they call home. The mysteries of the book involve not only the ghosts that may or may not roam Hundred’s halls, but also those that haunt postwar Britain. The reader might not be entirely surprised by the ways in which the story turns out, but he or she will be unsettled--and isn’t that point? And all accomplished with nary a zombie to be seen.
The book is narrated by Dr. Farraday, a country doctor whose initial visit to the Ayres family at Hundreds Hall is prompted by the sudden illness of their sole maid, Betty. Dr. Farraday had visited the Hall once before as a young boy, when his working class mother managed to talk a servant into showing young Farraday the Hall's interior rooms while a busy civic event took place on the home's grounds. The older Farraday is shocked at the Hall's state of decay; the peeling wallpaper and sagging ceilings bear only a slight resemblance to the grand palace he viewed with a child's astonished eyes. The Ayres family has suffered with time, too. Mr. Ayres is deceased, his wife is now a frail and aging beauty, and the Ayres' only son, Roderick, has been mentally and physically crippled by his service in WWII. Only daughter Caroline, a thick-ankled spinster who is fond of wearing shapeless woolen shifts and sturdy shoes, seems to emit a sense of animal vitality. The Ayres's only other child, Susan, died of diphtheria when she was very young.
The physical clues to the deadly mystery haunting Hundreds Hall are maddeningly ambiguous. A key thrown into the snow, smudged burn marks that slowly proliferate on the library's walls and ceiling, childlike scribbles that are discovered on woodwork and behind furniture, the sound of whistles and tinkling bells emanating from the Hall's ancient servant-summons system -- all of these can be dismissed by a bit of agile rationalization, and Dr. Farraday does his best to calm the growing fears of his upper crust clientele.
The true suspense in Waters' novel is mental, in the best gothic tradition of "The Turn of the Screw." The psychological tension within and between characters is at once subtle and overpowering. Dr. Farraday, an "up-from-his-bootstraps" local success story, is simultaneously charmed with the outdated eloquence of the Ayres family and revolted at his lapdog attempts to worm his way into their gentrified circle. (In one of the book's telling passages, Farraday looks at his image in a mirror before he visits the Hall and worries whether he looks like a balding grocer.) His initial tepid appraisal of Caroline gradually grows into a physical obsession; the tiny line of sweat that always appears on her upper lip after walking the family dog slowly transforms from turnoff to turn on. Caroline's animal vitality runs hot and cold with Farraday; she alternately urges him on and pushes him away with fear and disgust. Mrs. Ayres admits to Farraday that she has always been indifferent to Roderick and Carolyn; the only child she ever loved with maternal passion was Susan. Roderick feels that the house itself is a monster that can never be given enough repair and upkeep; the burden of his family's legacy is slowly consuming him.
Is it possible that repressed sexual desires and bottled-up mental torment can ultimately call forth "a little stranger" who wreaks havoc on its victims? If so, what is the nature of this "little stranger?" Is it based in the mind, or in reality, or somewhere in between? It is Sarah Waters' artful working of the "in between" that makes her book so memorable. Waters' refusal to spell out the answer forces each reader to reach his or her own conclusion based upon their own internal stranger. Sarah Waters' novel will prompt a little tickle on the back of your neck that will refuse to go away. An evil that is never decisively identified is difficult to decisively ignore. Don't forget your night light!
And yet, I did like it. I stayed glued to it and read it avidly. Waters puts an incredible amount of detail into her writing; I could see every blade of grass and mote of dust, feel every fear and anger.
The narrator, Dr. Faraday (he seems to have no first name), is in an unhappy state. Son of working class parents who worked themselves to put him through medical school, he, in his forties, is still poor. He’s not totally accepted by the other doctors because they came from a higher class, and he looks down on the working class. He frets that the soon to be established National Health Service will take his patients away from him.
What a break from his routine it is, then, when a chance house call takes him out to Hundreds, the crumbling estate of the penniless but upper class Ayres family. He’s long been enchanted by Hundreds; his mother, a maid there at one time, took him there once when he was a child and he felt it was the grandest thing ever. When, finishing a call on the 14 year old live in maid of all work, he finds that the man of the house, 20 something Roddy has returned from WW 2 with nasty burns and a bad leg, he decides to try treating the leg gratis since the family doesn’t have the means to pay him. This brings him to Hundreds frequently, and a relationship blooms between him and the family, crossing class boundaries. Eventually, Faraday becomes the de facto man of the house, even though he doesn’t live there.
When the strange events begin, Faraday, the man of science, explains them away as logical events and ‘nerves’. All the women, in his mind, need sedating and rest. They are unreliable witnesses who don’t think clearly. But Faraday himself is revealed as unreliable himself; who can we believe? As events become more and more horrible, his attempts to explain them become more strained.
The beautiful but ruined (much like the Ayres family itself) house is itself a character in the story- is it sentient? Is it evil? Or is there a ghost, or a poltergeist? Or is everyone crazy? Answers are few. This is definitely a Gothic novel, more Gothic than horror. The isolation of the characters- both physically and emotionally- is frightening. Everything and everyone is falling into decay- the house rots, leaks, burns, crumbles; the people sink into bad mental states. But it’s not just a Gothic tale; it’s much more interesting than that. It’s a sociological portrait of an era, with all the anxiety, shortages, classism, sexism, and even ageism it entailed. There are touches of ‘Turn of the Screw’, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and even Freud, but it is NOT derivative. It’s a gorgeous, brilliant book with an atmosphere that will cling to your brain for a few days after you finish it.
At once a story of love (of sorts), post-war recovery, the fall of the British gentry, horror, and psychological uncertainty, Sarah Waters has her hands full! She navigates the fictional minefield beautifully, however, and The Little Stranger was a book I couldn't put down. The horror in this story is subtle, brilliantly woven among the threads of loss, disappointment, hope, and love. Every character was well-developed and compelling, from the two main characters, to the ancillary servants and family members, to the mysterious house itself. I highly recommend this book to fans of Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and other masters of suspense.
Dr. Faraday has loved and admired the Hundreds Hall manor ever since he visited it during his childhood. Now with the war behind, and the future on the horizon, the house that he once admired from afar has slowly deteriorated and decayed beyond the point of recognition. All that remains of the once great house is a family at its wits end, futilely trying to maintain a glorious life and home that time has both neglected and devoured.
I don't know what I expected when I picked up The Little Stranger, but what I got was a page turning, chilling story of a haunted house, complete with characters whose sanity is questionable and a paranormal mystery that pushes the envelope of what logical reason dictates is possible. The house itself was a magnificent character which added to the overall effect of one walking through those abandoned halls, listening to sounds which shouldn't be heard and seeing things which shouldn't be seen. Water's writing was simple, almost curt, and in this case, I appreciated the style. It lended well to the story rather than detracting from it. I was completely drawn in and immersed into a story that continually kept my attention rapt with tensions high and revelations sprinkled throughout. Suffice to say, my first experience with Waters was a memorable and unforgettable one! Highly recommended.
From that first visit, Dr. Faraday slowly becomes part of the family's life. He is called on often to treat Roddie. Something ails Roddie besides his physical injuries. The young servant girl insists there is something 'wrong' with the house. Caroline begins to wonder this as well, as more misfortune befalls the family.
" This house is playing parlour games with us, I think. We shan't pay it any mind if it starts up again."
She confides in Dr. Faraday and enlists his help.
" I don't know what's going on here, any more than you do. But I'd like to help you figure it out. I'll take my chances with the hungry house, don't worry about that."
This is a tale with a 'gothic' feel to it, a ghost story of sorts. But it doesn't involve overt frights or over the top scenarios. Instead it is all the more delicious for the subtle and insidious manner in which the story unfolds. Everyday items and occurrences suddenly take on a sinister bent.
The interplay between the characters is just as much a part of the story. Dr. Faraday is a bit of an enigma. He is from a lower social class than the Ayres. At times he is made painfully aware of this. At other times, the Ayres family seems to depend on him excessively. Is he there for himself, for personal gain or simply to be in the house again? The other main character Caroline is also a mystery. At times she is playful, other times aloof, practical yet playful. What does she really want from the good Doctor? Many of the other characters give us a glimpse into the social life and mores of the time period.
Waters is a master of building a story. The tension grows and we are left wondering if the house is indeed perpetrating these calamities or is it the residents of the house?
In fact, a few of us took in little or none of the spirit world and found its basic theme more about class structure, power struggles and human frailties. Was there ever a ghost or poltergeist in Hundreds Hall? Well, we differed in our opinions on this and a few other points. Some found the story slow to start with predictable character lines, and a few thought the book could have been a few hundred pages shorter. On the up side there were those who found the writing style gripping with wonderfully descriptive passages of the old mansion in its post-war deterioration, effortlessly transporting the reader into the halls and ballrooms of the past.
Alongside these views, we did all agree on one dominating theme, and that was the presence of the social class structure and how it was eroding during the post WWII era.
By the end of our discussion (and it was unanimously thought to be a good one) we more or less agreed that the story was never intended to have a neatly tied-up conclusion and that the many loose ends are intentionally left dangling. However, two very interesting points were tabled by Nadine and Denise. Firstly, Nadine felt that the book was highlighting the unexplainable, and how we as humans need to have a clear and definite answer to anything that we cannot logically explain. And then, in the end, whose explanation is the correct one … and correct to whom?
And then Denise brought up an idea that I don’t think any of us had thought of. Is Waters doing a calculated study of the old established families and their mansions? Why are so many of them supposedly riddled with ghosts of the past? And are these ghosts and demons simply a manifestation of the family’s frailties in an insecure world where their position and status is threatened? Is the house simply displaying the family’s madness?
We don’t really expect there to be answers to these questions, but it was certainly fun rifling through them, and in the end, coming no closer to the truth about The Little Stranger.
From the very first, a reader is drawn into the story of Dr. Faraday as much by Ms. Waters’ descriptions of the imposing but decrepit Hundreds Hall as by her portrayals of the key characters. His fascination with Hundreds Hall, starting from the reader’s first glimpse of Dr. Faraday as a young boy visiting the grand hall to obtain an award from the mistress of the house, is palpable, as is his desire to present himself as something other than the son of working class parents. His longing, combined with the stubborn refusal of the Ayres family to admit the ending of an era, create a backdrop against which the entire rest of the novel occurs.
The power of The Little Stranger lies in Ms. Waters’ highly evocative words. A reader has no problems envisioning the decaying Victorian mansion, the hardships endured by the Ayres, and the wishful longing emanating from the wistful Dr. Faraday. Roddie’s injuries as well as Caroline’s mannishness are equally vibrant. The result is the feeling that a reader is part of the novel and not just a distant observer.
Ms. Waters’ skill at wordsmithing becomes vital when creating the hauntings that plague Hundreds Hall. They are everything that one could wish for in a haunted house and quite effective at scaring its inhabitants as well as the reader. What is quite remarkable is the fact that these hauntings are told largely after they occur. With few exceptions, the reader learns about the hauntings through retellings as they are told to Dr. Faraday. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, this only enhances their mysteriousness and their impact, as a reader is left to ponder along with Dr. Faraday whether the occurrences are actually happening or are the result of stress and declining mental health. Understanding that what someone can imagine on their own is infinitely more frightening than anything a writer can put on paper, Ms. Waters lets the reader decide the truth.
Spooky but not terrifying, The Little Stranger proves why Sarah Waters is so popular. Its imagery and general verbiage are gorgeous to behold, and the characters take on a life of their own. A reader will enjoy the spine-tingling goodness but still be able to fall asleep at night. The Little Stranger is a thinking person’s thriller and, given the dismal atmosphere that pervades the story, is a perfect autumnal read.
Sarah Waters has a truly expert touch with British post-war decline, and she mixes it up with a touch of the supernatural in this slow-paced but strangely gripping novel. Dr. Faraday (his first name is never given as far as I know) watches the decline of the Ayres family and their home, Hundreds Hall, as an outsider-but-almost-insider-but-nope with a sadness that holds just the teeniest, tiniest hint of schadenfreude. Through his eyes we see Hundreds in its glory while he’s just the son of a servant, guiltily chipping off a little chunk of plaster molding as a sort of trophy or memento of a life he’ll never have. Years later the balance of power has reversed itself: Faraday is a doctor and as such worthy of respect however humble his beginnings, even if the chip on his shoulder still wobbles with every step he takes, while Hundreds is a decaying mausoleum inhabited by a family making pathetic attempts to keep up the slenderest of appearances.
An attempt to bring some new money into the family fortunes ends in a tragedy at which Faraday is present as a somewhat uncomfortable half-guest, and thereafter he’s present to witness the deterioration of the son of the house who believes he’s the victim of some kind of haunting. Roderick, the son, never comes across as a fully rounded character to me; there’s a touch of the caricature in him, the upper class war relic whose nerves are brittle and temper short, furious at the futility of it all. Waters does a much better job with his sister Caroline—awkward, ungainly, dutiful and true-hearted, achieving a kind of beauty through the eyes of a man who’s no catch himself and knows it.
Many other reviewers have said that this isn’t really a ghost story at all, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s an atmospheric painting of a story, supplying the occasional frisson but never really getting off the ground in terms of action. And yet there’s something about Waters’ writing that sucks you in and holds you tight—she has that trick of making you feel uncomfortable and worried that if you don’t continue to read the story, it’s going to do something nasty behind your back. This is the novel to read when you’re holed up in a remote cabin in the woods or on a wet weekend at the seaside in a slightly fusty but pleasant hotel, and everyone else has gone for a walk and won’t be back for hours. Swallow at one gulp with a pot of strong tea and a couple of scones with jam and clotted cream.
Waters is a mature writer, a master of language, and someone who uses detail superbly in creating a mood. She has been compared to Dickens in this respect; actually, I think she’s better because Dickens, after all, was paid by the word, modern writers are not, and Waters achieves her effects with an economy of words. She also does a splendid job with her characters, creating believable and interesting characters. This is especially true in The Little Stranger. i thought her handling of the narrator, Dr. David Faraday, was masterful. A dull man, Waters made him interesting by means of his dullness, no mean feat in my opinion.
I have nothing but praise for her writing. Now to turn to the other aspect I always evaluate with any work of fiction, the story telling.
Again, I think that she is skillful in her ability to use language to tell her story. The problem I have--and it is a severe one--is that I dislike the genre she’s chosen this time.
There are certain genres I avoid--romance (predictable and boring), fantasy (predictable and boring), chick-lit, (REALLY boring), and ghost stories/horror (predictable and boring). I don’t like them. Unfortunately, The Little Stranger falls into the last category, the ghost story.
I found the plot predictable and boring, almost totally uninteresting. What kept me going was the writing. I have to say that I thought the epilogue was extremely well done and is a perfect example of the way Waters writes to make her characters far more than they appear to be within the plot.
I loved Affinity, which I thought was interesting from beginning to end, although I understand it’s classified as “gothic”. OK, bring me more Sarah Waters gothic. But I will avoid any more books of hers (or anyone else’s) that is in the ghost story category, because I think her talents are wasted in that genre.
I don’t know what to say--perhaps highly recommended for those who like ghost stories or who are interested in seeing how Waters is maturing as a writer.
Just finished: I'm full of ambivalent feelings. Most of the time i was complaining that the pace and tone are stiff and plodding, that the characterisation two dimensional and that the descriptive, poetic bits, although lovely, are self conscious and don't fit the character who's supposedly making the observation. Also the scenes supposedly described to the narrator are not likely to have been described in as much descriptive detail as he re-tells. But I couldn't stop reading, and suspect that Sarah is working better magic than I'm conscious of.; which fits really, as I think that the poltergeist is a manifestation of the doctor's own subconscious obsession with the house and the upper class life.
Now, as I look back on my concentrated read (started it yesterday morning) I feel that the pace and tone were just right, and that I can forgive the clunky way of including great evocative description , because of how thought provoking and memorable the whole book has been.
Dr. Faraday is summoned to Hundreds Hall to tend to the ill housekeeper and is reminded of his previous visit, when he was all of ten years old. Through repeated interactions with the hall's residents, the Ayres family, Faraday manages to insinuate himself into their lives. Mrs. Ayres, the matriarch, and her children, 27 year old Caroline and 23 year old Roderick, live in the dilapidating estate house with their teenaged housemaid Betty. Faraday's mother had been a housekeeper in the hall years before. Mrs. Ayres' first daughter Susan died in the hall's nursery in childhood. From these elements, Waters brews an insightful, penetrating account of class tension, envy, jealousy, lovers' quarrels and, just possibly, a ghost or some other malevolent presence. The family are slowly driven mad by the hall, both mentally through the possible hauntings and physically by the shear enormity of the situation - trying to maintain an ungodly large estate on dwindling income.
The novel brilliantly evokes its time and place, give us characters to care about and places them in harm's way. The suspense is slowly, almost excruciatingly built up. The doctor remains skeptical, the family members slowly succumb to the madness the house induces. And in the end, the ghost is masterfully revealed causing the reader to reassess everything revealed previously. Creepy, lyrical and lonesome, The Little Stranger makes the perfect October's evening read.