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After a visit recently of my Mum in law, she decided to let me borrow a book that she had just finished with the simple words - "See what you think.....", how could I refuse!
The book in question is "The little stranger" by Sarah Waters.
Set in a post war summer in rural Warwickshire, doctor Faraday is called to attend a maid at the manor house Hundreds hall, home to the Ayres's for over 200 years, and former work place of Dr Faraday's late mother.
Dr Faraday actually looks forward to seeing the grand house as he was completely in love with the house as a chid, with the last visit there being when he was but a child, and to receive a medal from the previous Lord Ayres, though time has obviously been very cruel.
Dr Faraday is amazed to see how badly the house has suffered with the ravages of time, and after treating the young maid (who seems to be truly frightened of being alone in the house), attends a tea with Lady Ayres and her two children, frumpy and very sensible Caroline, and war hero Roderick, who has returned home to look after the finances of the now dilapidated house.
Dr Faraday soon is made to believe he is fiend of the family, and due to his unhealthy obsession with the house and the ageing family within, starts to visit more often.
Soon however unexplained things start to happen, could they all be within the fragile minds of the eccentric and damaged Ayres's, or are there more sinister forces afoot?
This book is extremely slow going, with the first half of the book seemingly going nowhere, and even that is done at a gentle pace!
When the so-called accidents start to happen you do question, even before the author suggest it, whether it is simply a condition of fragility of mind on the part of the family, though there is always much back up of the paranormal side from the young maid, who is convinced there is something within the house with them.
Even when the accidents happen you get no feel of threat or menace, just a sense of "at last something has happened", and for this fact alone I really felt cheated with this book!
There are three moments within the book that do take you by surprise, and the unthinkable does happen, but these I am afraid do not save the book for me in the slightest.
I was really disappointed after reading this book, not only was it a laboured affair (nearly two weeks in fact, an unheard of amount of time for me!), but I felt no enlightenment once completed, nothing was really explained and I get the idea that the author leaves the reader themselves to make any unanswered conclusions to the book, which if I were that way inclined would make me a much deeper person than I am, but for me I like a good conclusion with explanation included!
Price wise this has a RRP of £7.99, but is available for less via www.amazon.co.uk
Thanks for reading x
I purchased The Little Stranger on the basis of its author, Sarah Walters. I was on my lunch break at work and being in a rush scanned the book shop shelves and her name jumped out at me. I have read all her previous books and thoroughly enjoyed them despite an occasional wince at their explicitness and so thought with time ticking this was a good book to choose.
I was a little surprised on getting home that evening and reading the blurb on the back of the book what a departure in style The Little Stranger was to Walter's previous work. Perhaps it was not such a safe bet of a purchase after all, especially as I could sense the content was going to spook the life out of me.
The Little Stranger is to all intends and purposes a ghost story. There are no ghostly apparitions and things going bump in the night a la Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It is far more about tension and suspense and fear of the unknown. Regardless, I was tempted to sleep with the bedroom light on a few times because as I say I am rubbish at anything to do with ghosts. It gives me a chill even thinking about it. For your average reader, this book is not likely to scare you to this extent, but boy will it get you thinking, and wondering and perhaps slightly freaking out.
Walter's first books were set in the Victorian period and pivot around the central theme of lesbian romance. The narratives are voiced by strong, female protagonists. The Nightwatch is a departure from these three novels as it is instead set during World War Two but it still keeps the strong female voice.
What is immediately striking about The Little Stranger is it is narrated by a man. I have done a little research and it appears it is common for traditional ghost stories to be narrated by a scholarly bachelor man and Dr Faraday is just that. I guess it gives the somewhat far-fetched plot more credence coming from such a character - even though it is a bit sexist for this day and age.
The Little Stranger is set in the 1940s but I didn't get that sense on reading the book. Of course the historical detail was there and I was quite taken aback at how Dr Faraday drinks and drives without a thought but the book instead created a picture of a Gothic era where time seemed of little importance. I think this was because the house itself, Hundreds Hall is very much frozen in time.
The book opens ten years earlier when Dr Faraday was a boy and he attended the Empire Day Fête held in the grounds of Hundreds Hall, a grand manor house owned by the Ayres. His mother used to be a servant at the hall and so is able to sneak him in the back way to take at look inside. He is immediately enamoured by the house and goes as far as to steal a bit of decorative plaster border. He snaps off a plaster acorn and puts it in his pocket.
A decade later he is called out to Hundreds Hall to tend to a servant. The house is not usually on his round but his superior, Dr Graham, is busy elsewhere. The Ayres family still live there but the house is falling into ruin around them. They are struggling to keep up with the advances in modern living and room after room is having to be shut up and abandoned.
Suspicion that all is not well at the house at a deeper level than purely cosmetic is first alluded to by the servant, Betty, who Dr Faraday realises is not ill, but faking illness in a bid to be sent home, away from the house which gives her the creeps.
Dr Faraday is a man of science and he does not accept Betty's view that the house is haunted but he is forced to accept that something untoward is going on at the house as more and more bizarre occurrences happen.
As the book progresses it also becomes clear that all is not completely well with Dr Faraday. From the moment he stole that plaster acorn he started to develop quite an unhealthy obsession with the building. He keeps a little collection of mementoes which he associates with the house, some objects he has stolen from the Ayres' home, as though very steadily he is working towards possessing Hundreds Hall in its entirety.
His relationship with Miss Ayres is the most chilling aspect of this ambition. There is a sense in moving closer to her, he is moving closer to the hall, and when the relationship breaks down he is as much upset at losing the prospect of owning the building through marriage, as he is of losing her.
His narrative style is quite withdrawn, emotionless and dare I say boring, but there is far more going on below the surface of this man, which makes him the more dangerous, as his thoughts and actions go undetected by those around him.
On the sly he is a thrill seeker. This is made evident in the beginning when he steals that acorn. Throughout the day he enjoys the thrill of the possibility he could be caught and is disappointed when he isn't.
To me The Little Stranger is the most chilling of ghost stories because it is not about what you see with your eyes but what you conjure up in your mind. There is a chilling suspense throughout the whole book and this is aided by Walter's choice of a dispassionate, matter of fact narrator. Like the narrator, we are forced to step back from the action and analyse it with a critical, rational eye. The fact that still there are some aspects of the tale which cannot be reasoned away, makes us believe, just like Dr Faraday, that the only option can be that the house is haunted, even if this is against our better judgement.
All the characters in the novel are well constructed. I have always been taken by the eccentricity of the aristocracy and constantly you see once grand establishments fall into decay because the aristocratic families have been unable to afford the upkeep.
Into this scenario, Walters put characters which are believable because they are recognisable. Ruth Ayres is very well painted, from her appearance and dress to her hoity toity manner. Roderick, similarly is both the stereotypical former soldier returned from active duty, battle scarred both physically and mentally, yet is very real as an individual. His mannerisms and speech are very immediate to the reader.
Mrs Ayres is more of a conundrum for me. She appears to have been sidelined in her own house by her children and I found it difficult to grasp whether she was, like her daughter, the unmoveable, stoic older states person, or a warm motherly figure. The text seemed to sway between the two.
I would say I didn't warm to any of these characters. Usually this would mean the end of my enjoyment of a book. I find if you don't care about the characters, then you don't care what happens to them.
There is one character that I did care for, however, which saved the novel for me and that was Hundreds Hall. It is Hundreds Hall, the big, friendly crumbling building, which is the victim of the hauntings or peculiar goings-on. It is Hundreds Hall which Dr Faraday has his obsessive sights on and I was most afraid for Hundreds Hall's fate when Miss Ayres planned to sell it off. The thought of the building being demolished was unbearable. The hall is vandalised, maimed and set alight throughout the book and is the greatest victim.
The first most likely explanation for the strange goings on in the house is that is it haunted by Mrs Ayres' first daughter who died as a child. But there is something too brutal about the events which happen which does not seem to fit with a child ghost making her presence known to her family.
A more chilling theory is Dr Faraday himself is something to do with what is going on. The other characters recognise a change in atmosphere and energy in the house, which seems to build following Dr Faraday's entry into their lives. Admittedly, Betty talks of ghostly goings-on occurring before the doctor enters the house but it is like he is an accelerant.
He sees the family taken off one by one as though making room for him to take over. The last few paragraphs of the story, which I will not reveal, compound this idea that Dr Faraday has something to do with it. Not in a crass way such as he is going around killing people or making spooky noises in the night to frighten people in their beds, but his presence has unsettled the equilibrium of the hall in some way.
No definitive answer is given of what was causing all these chilling events and many people on the outside try and rationalise it off as a series of unfortunate events. There are of course others who are fascinated at the possibility the house is haunted. The reader is also invited to take one of these two opposing sides.
I like the fact it is left open because regardless of which way you were tending to sway throughout, your point of view cannot be defeated. It is the open, inconclusive ending which makes this an effective ghost story. I found The Little Stranger a thoroughly enjoyable read, even if it did spook me at times.
The Little Stranger is the 5th novel by writer Sarah Waters. It is difficult to provide an outline of the novel as there are so many twists and turns that I would not want to spoil it for anyone so I will be brief. That said the book has such an enigmatic ending I am not sure I know what it actually is.
The story is set in rural Warwickshire just after World War 2. The protagonist is class concious and often paranoid Dr Faraday and it is through his narration that the story unfolds. Dr Faraday finds himself at the dilapidated Hundreds Hall to treat the minor illness of the house maid who is convinced the house is haunted. Whilst there Faraday strikes up a friendship with the Ayres family who are struggling with the upkeep of the house. As his time there progresses the inhabitants of the house are driven crazy (literally in the case of one of the inhabitants) by the strange goings on at the Hundreds Hall. The question is, is the house actually haunted or are the inhabitants suffused in a strange paranoia, is the decaying house decaying the psyche of those living there.
This is a brilliant and unsettling book. In many ways it is a old fashioned Ghost Story. Waters successfully creates a tense and chilling atmosphere which at times is truly terrifying. She plays with all of the Gothic sensibilities you would expect in both setting and themes. There is one particular scene in the old nursery that left me nervous about turning out the light before bed. The characters in the book are very believable and really well drawn. Faraday in particular will have you screaming at the pages. The novel is also a great insight into the way class was changing in the post war period, and how even those whose status was rising were not entirely comfortable with the shifting of the status quo.
This book kept me on the edge of my seat and I was completely absorbed from the first chapter. I read this book a few weeks ago but it has had a lasting effect. Not least as the ending is open to the readers interpretation. I have actually reread the last few chapters a few times now but my interpretation keeps changing. I cannot decide if the evil is in the house or in it's inhabitants.
This is not a summer read so read it now before the nights get warm and light.
I absolutely loved this book, as far as I'm concerned it's an instant classic. When I was reading I was completely transported into the story.
Very briefly, as well as being a ghost story it is also a story about loss and class division, duty and sacrifice. It is the tale of a bygone era.
The descriptions of the house itself and it's decreptitude were so well written it was almost tangible, I felt like I knew every room. The book was written in an old fashioned way, every character felt real. There was nothing contrived, everybody behaved in a way that was utterly believable and true to their character.
For me it was reminiscent of Downton abbey, not because there was much similarity in the story, but because it was so well realised and a perfect evocation of the era in which it was set.
I'd be very surprised if the tv and film rights to this haven't been snapped up!
It is easy to see why Sarah Waters has become a regular of the best seller lists and short lists for various prizes. Waters is a writer that can bring together every element of a story; she creates believable, transfixing characters, is a master of plot manipulation and atmospheric descriptions. And this, The Little Stranger, Waters fifth novel, does not fail in showcasing her talents.
With Waters' ability to create absorbing descriptions, it feels only right that she should write a ghost story that harks back to classic supernatural tales. From the off, it reminded me of Daphne Du Maurier's, Rebecca, probably because of the descriptions of a grand old house and it's grounds, and of course, something untoward going on behind it's closed doors. I think, herein lies the difficulty in writing a spooky story. So many have gone before, and so many have been made into films, and some, I'm thinking Dracula and Frankenstein, have been reawakened hundreds of times between them, and when something is repeated over and over, it passes into cliché. For Waters then, who set out to write a story that involves a distinguished haunted home, there were the traps of falling into the clichés associated with this. But, she doesn't, and this is why I think the novel is so successful. For me, it was necessary that Waters set the novel in the forties, with the aristocratic extravagance of the eras before crumbling away. The dilapidation of the house, not only dispels the clichés, it creates an eerie setting for the mysteries that unfold at Hundreds Hall.
There are some moments in the book that are frightening, and, I'm ashamed to admit, there were parts in which I wanted to hide beneath the duvet, but as is usual with Waters, you just can't stop reading. I finished the whole book within a week of starting it, and again, as is usual with Waters, I didn't want it to end. The Little Stranger though is not just a ghost story, it is a subtle examination of the British class system, and it is woven skilfully into the plot, becoming part of the mystery itself.
Sarah Waters has a dedicated following because she is a great storyteller and because the language she uses is so accessible but equally beautiful. If you are a new reader of Waters I highly recommend all of her work as well as this one. If you are already a fan of Waters, I can't see how you would be disappointed with this novel because as I have mentioned before, it is written with the same delicacy when describing and with the same cleverness when creating the plot. However, don't go into it expecting the Victorian frolic that Waters has become known for. This is a little more subdued because of the male narrator, Doctor Faraday's character, and the story needs him to be this way. Through his quiet reflections of the events at Hundreds Hall, those happenings seem all the stranger.
I can't wait for Sarah Waters' next novel, and there are plans being made to adapt The Little Stranger into a film, and The Night Watch into a BBC drama, so keep an eye out for those as Waters' writing always seems to transform well onto the screen.
'The Little Stranger' was chosen by a member of my book group to read one month. Having never read any of Waters's books before, I was keen to see what this had in store. I loved it!
Set in Warwickshire in a vague post-war era, Waters uses the voise of local doctor Faraday to entice the reader into the lives and house of the Ayres family. The Ayreses (mother, daughter and son) live in the once-grand, but now decrepit Hundreds Hall in Lidcote.
Faraday has previously been to Hundreds Hall as a child (his mother was a servant there) and was intrigued by the house even then, and the reader discovers how he took a piece of decorative plaster home with him. His desire for the house increases throughout the novel, and as he falls in love with Caroline Ayres she asks him whether it is the house he really wants.
Pragmatic Caroline explains to Faraday that the house is a monster that needs feeding and as the story progresses he becomes more entwined with what happens there. Gradually, the reader discovers with horror how this 'monster' manipulates and effects all the members of the household. Faraday tried to scientifically explain all the terrifying goings-on, but the reader listens more to explanations given by different characters in the story.
This was a very chilling novel in parts, but an exciting and brisk read. Fantastic! I will definitely be reading more from Sarah Waters, and woiuld give it a 4.5 star rating if I could!
Interestingly, I've just discovered that the title of this book, 'The Little Stranger', has a double meaning, as do several other of her titles. 'Fingersmith' is Victorian slang for either a pickpocket or a midwife, though let's not dwell on the origins of that particular piece of colloquialism for too long! 'Little Stranger' is more 19th century slang, referring to an unborn child.
Set in post World War Two Warwickshire, the story is narrated by Dr Faraday- a rural doctor who hovers awkwardly between two different classes and nervously awaits the imminent arrival of the brand new National Health System.
His mother worked as a servant at Hundreds Hall when he was a little boy, and in fact the first chapter relates an incident he remembers from that time, when he was allowed into one of the passageways leading from the kitchens and couldn't resist the urge to remove one of the plaster acorns from the wall with his pocket knife.
He's called back there many years later, with regard to one of the servants, Betty, and is shocked by the dank, crumbling decay of the place in comparison with its former years of glory. He observes that the missing acorn would hardly be missed at all under the circumstances.
The good doctor is called to the house on many more occasions throughout the story, firstly to treat the son of the household, Rod, who has returned from the RAF with a damaged leg which has left him unequal to the task of running the house and its accompanying land to the standards he would wish, as master of the house.
The only other members of the household, bar the meagre collection of servants the family can still afford, are Mrs Ayres (Rodney's mother), and Caroline, his sister.
However, this is not purely a tale of class and the breaking down of British middle-class society after the war. It is also a ghost story, and the first creepy incident to occur is when Caroline's beautiful and incredibly docile Labrador supposedly bites a little girl's face at a party, leaving her scarred for life. Betty claims there's a strange presence in the house, but of course nobody's going to pay the slightest attention to a 14-year-old skivvy.
Next to succumb to this 'strange presence' is Rodney, who goes totally mad after observing objects in his room being moved threateningly, apparently by unseen hands.
Some clever narration takes place here, as the doctor of course applies his rational, scientific logic to the whole situation and repeatedly manages to explain away increasingly inexplicable incidents in a stern, authoritative manner, both to members of the household and to us. A small part of me wanted to believe his theories that the family were just under a lot of stress, and that Rodney had clearly been psychologically damaged by the war (though he doesn't say so in so many words.) The rest of me felt increasing frustration with his persistent need to rationalise everything, and I often felt a need to grab him by the collar and shake him to make him see sense.
Sarah Waters has apparently been compared with Margaret Atwood, but I have the pleasure of informing you that she's nothing like the aforementioned, though I haven't read the books the direct comparison was being made with. Waters is eminently more likeable and has a much more readable writing style than Atwood. I myself might consider comparing her to an author such as Kazuo Ishiguro, not because of the theme of the book, but because of the writing style. The post-war confessional which slowly and almost painfully reveals its story and thus its conclusion is very much in the style of 'The Remains of the Day,' although I'd have to say that a bit of self-confessing guilt on the part of the narrator in 'The Little Stranger' would bring it up to the literary level of 'The Remains of the Day.' Unfortunately the obstinate need of the doctor to see things in black and white, rather than to reflect towards the end of the book, did leave me feeling that the book was slightly lacking.
Having said that, the way Waters has captured the essence of an era she never personally witnessed is very impressive. There are only one or two telling language slips that reveal her to be a contemporary author. Otherwise I could convincingly believe her to be an author of the time.
While this is a ghost story, it perhaps looks more deeply at the demise of one particular middle class family and therefore at the demise of a whole society and a way of life. I'd recommend it, therefore, both to fans of ghost stories, but perhaps more so to people interested in historical novels and / or with a special interest in a bygone era.
Sarah Waters', Man Booker Prize shortlisted, book is an engaging and entertaining read. Set in post-war rural Britain the book is narrated by the amiable but seemingly mundane Dr. Faraday. It tells the story of the doctors' life becoming entwined with that of the Ayres family - Mrs Ayres, Caroline and Roderick, the remnants of the local gentry living in the increasingly dilapidated Georgian house of 'Hundreds Hall'.
The book begins with Dr. Faraday spending more time at the Hundreds Hall, and with the Ayres family, his relationship with the family slowly blurring from professional to personal becoming entangled in their affairs. There is Roderick, the emotionally and physically scared war veteran who struggles under of the weight of being 'Lord of the Manor' following his fathers passing. Mrs Ayres, Roderick's mother, whose values hark back to a gentler age and who tries to 'keep up appearances' despite the changing world around her. Finally, there is Caroline, the plain faced but able minded and bodied sister of Roderick who puts her ambitions aside to look after her brother and the house. As strange occurrences take place at the Hall Dr. Faraday finds himself questioning whether these are the result of hereditary family hysteria from an increasingly disconnected and impoverished old gentry family. But as these occurrences take on a darker more sinister tint he begins to question whether the Ayres family are the victims of a vindictive 'little stranger'.
In many ways this book may seem like a story of very little; a house, a doctor, an eccentric family. But under the surface it tells us about many things. Life in post-war Britain, the antagonisms between the dying gentry class and the upwardly mobile middle class - of a changing society, the fine line between the paranormal and perceived insanity, and the rational and empirical against the ethereal and supernatural. Most enthralling are the careful and insightful descriptions of the Georgian house, Hundreds Hall, which sets the mood of each chapter with beautiful sentences like, 'I recall most vividly the house itself, which struck me as an absolute mansion. I remember its lovely ageing details: the worn red brick, the cockled window glass, the weathered sandstone edgings. The made it look blurred and slightly uncertain - like an ice, I thought, just beginning to melt in the sun.'
It is the nuanced characters and descriptions of the hall that makes the book so readable, and it is the insights into class, post-war life, and insanity that leaves the book asking to be made into a play.
Second hand copies of the book can be found on Abe books and Ebay for as little as £3 with posting. It is worth every penny.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a novel set in post-war Britain, exploring class divides, against the background of a 'haunting.'
It begins with Dr Faraday, by backgound working-class, being called to attend to Betty, a young servant at Hundreds Hall, a previously glorious stately home, now beginning to fall down and beset with financial problems. There, he meets the Ayres's, made-up of the ageing mother, the plain Caroline and her brother, the war-scarred Rod. After this, the Dr and the family's lives become entwined and a series of mysterious incidents takes place. Is Hundreds Hall haunted? Are the incidents down to people? Are they the result of mental illness? Is the lure of the great house too much for the narrator?
I have never read a novel by Sarah Waters before, but upon reading the synopsis expected this to be bone-chilling (I'm easily scared). It wasn't.
The plot moves very slowly and although well-written, nothing really happens until about 130 pages in. The novel explores the risng class tension between the upper classes and the working class, the class system and the decline of England's gentry well. It's an interesting study of life in England at the time and there is certainly room for plenty of debate about the cause of the incidents at Hundreds Hall - just what or who is causing them? Is it a metaphor for Dr Faraday's urge to be accepted into the upper classes? His urge to both love and destroy, as seen in the opening passages?
The fact is, I wasn't filled with that much of an urge to find out. The characters - especially Dr Faraday - are very unlikeable, perhaps deliberately so, but it doesn't help a reader connect to the story.
The only time I felt any kind of emotion was after an incident with a dog - and the sympathy went in the dog's direction!
The story itself reaches an unsatisfying and rather irritating conclusion - I like things to be resolved - without giving anything away, it is hard to describe just why it is so unsatisfying, but needless to say, you won't be getting many answers to your questions.
I can't say I was gripped by this novel, though I have some theories about it. Sarah Waters can certainly write, just not sure about this one.
Perhaps the ambiguity of the novel has left me feeling the same way. Mixed feelings. Some people with love this, anyone who likes their books to have a proper ending, steer clear. Three stars from me.
Our book club recently read Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger for our latest selection and I have to say that I found it an interesting, if frustrating read. The story focuses around a large, crumbling country house and the equally crumbling social class divides that exist in post war Britain.
Although marketed as a gothic ghost story the book focuses more on the social aspects of the time, revolving around a pre national health service GP and his relationships with the landed classed family at the centre of the story.
I liked the way Waters examines the different social classes, expectations and social conventions but felt I wanted more of the spooky aspects to be explained and explored.
The differences between the landed gentry and their staff are stark, and the Doctor at the centre of the story falls somewhere between the two. He's of working class stock (his mother once worked for the household) but has trained as a doctor and so now has some social standing. however, he's not of the same level as the family but seems to desperately want to be accepted by them. I also found it interesting learning about the life of a pre NHS GP and the apprehension he and his colleagues felt at the approaching NHS.
The characters reminded me of 1940s British film characters - all clipped tones and brooding reservations. This made if difficult for me to really care for any of them though which made the book a little cold.
Waters' descriptions of the house itself are fascinating - almost like it's a character in itself. You get a real feel for this crumbling, once grand mansion - now all dark corners and shut off rooms.
I also found the ending incrediably frustrating but without giving too much away I can't really go into why. Overall it's an interesting read but one that didn't grab me emotionally (although a few bits were pretty spooky) and I felt cheated by the ending and as though I had more questions than answers.
I have read and enjoyed all four of Sarah Waters' previous novels so it was with great excitement that I picked up her latest novel.
From the start it differs from her previous novels in that it doesn't have lesbians in it and that it is a ghost story.
The start of the book is the rememberance of Dr Faraday when he was ten and he went to visit the big house Hundreds, that his mother worked in. The story then jumps forward thirty years, to when Dr Faraday meets the current inhabitants of Hundreds and gets caught up in their lives.
The atmosphere is already set for a creepy thriller with an old house, noises in the night and mysterious fires. And at times, you find yourself in a 1940s ghost story which twists and turns. At other times however, you find yourself plodding along with the action.... well, for the want of a better word.. waiting for something to happen. In some ways, that is the scariest part of the book, waiting for something to happen.
On the whole, the book was a disappointment. I wasn't a big sympathiser of the Doctor, through whose eyes the story unfolds. The other characters in the book, although well written, don't seem to have much going for them either. And the story just dribbles onto an inconclusive ending.
Personally this wasn't the book I thought it was, and would recommend anyone looking for a proper ghost story/horror book should look elsewhere before selecting this book. On the other hand if you like all talk and no action, this may be the book for you.
I don't tend to read ghost stories, so I was a little surprised when this turned up on my 'Amazon recommends' list...but it was 50% off, so I decided to give it a try.
The book moves slowly, and I originally thought it was going to be glaringly obvious. Dr Faraday is a country doctor who is approaching middle aged without much to show for it. He finds himself visiting the Ayres family, who were once very prestigious, on a regular basis...so far, so boring.
Then the calm family dog attacks a small child for no reason, doors lock themselves, bells ring, strange marks cover the walls and sinister messages turn up on the windows and doors. Being a Doctor, Faraday thinks their must be a reasonable explanation, but the Ayres family already expect paranormal activity....I did like this part of the book. Faraday makes an interesting commentator, who is well aware of his position in the family. He acts more like a servant, and resents the family most of the time. He's unimaginative, and very stuck in his ways. Despite this, Waters manages to create an intricate layering of paranoia and doubt, and slowly shows you glimpses of the characters which really keep you guessing.
Theres subplots, as well, including a romance and the Ayres disgust at falling from their prestigious position in Society, and at the suggestion that council houses may soon be built close to their land. These are all carefully written to add to the story, rather then annoy the reader or distract from the main plot.
I finished reading the book last week, and am still coming to terms with it. While the ending is good, the book manages to open so many doors, and really does place shadows in your mind. I find myself thinking about this all the time! Its a mesmerising read, and I was quick to order another of Waters books. Unfortunately, though, this seems to be the only book of this kind that she has written. I really hope she adds to the collection soon!
I was pleased to learn earlier this year that Sarah Waters had a new novel out and even more pleased to hear that it was a ghost story as I felt sure she would do it well. I think it's really difficult to pull off a satisfying ghost story and although I love the idea of them, those I have read I have often found let downs, especially the endings. Waters' first three novels which have all been televised, were set in the Victorian era and she was credited with having invented a new genre of 'Victorian lesbian romp', but her fourth novel 'The Nightwatch', (which I have reviewed previously), was set during the second world war and this, her eagerly awaited fifth, also takes place in the forties, in post war rural England. When I received this as a birthday present recently, I immediately set aside all other reading material in order to devour it.
The story is narrated by a male doctor. This came as a surprise as all Waters' previous books have had strong female narrators (or protagonists). In contrast Dr Faraday seems a very dull and conventional type. As Waters pointed out in an interview, the scholarly bachelor narrator is a mainstay of traditional ghost stories by writers such as M R James, and the style of narration gives the book a really old fashioned feel, as if it was actually written in the period. As with The Nightwatch I was sometimes reminded of old black and white films, no doubt of the kind that evoked the true feel of the era. In the first chapter Dr Faraday is called out to a patient at Hundreds Hall, home to the Ayres, an upper class family who have fallen on hard times. Their home is turning into a ruin around them and they are finding it difficult to keep up appearances, as well as keep pace with the changing times. There is also more going on than meets the eye as is hinted by the young maid Betty, who tells the doctor on his first visit that the house gives her the creeps. He doesn't take her seriously, but as he becomes more involved with the house and the people who live there, it becomes clear that all is not well and, although strange occurences take place with increasing frequency, his natural scepticism makes him loath to accept that the house is haunted.
Although Dr Faraday seems quite dull the narration itself never is. To me he seethes with repressed emotion whilst presenting a fair and reasonable face to the world. It's hard to say exactly why he seems a bit sinister, there is the occasional nasty comment, quickly taken back, there is mention of troubled relationships with his deceased parents and hints of certain inclinations that he is unable to face up to. He seems both to resent the Ayres for their position in society and also to want to be them. He is from a working class background and riddled with anxiety about his social status. He gradually begins to seem more unpleasant and something of an unreliable narrator.
The characters are superbly drawn. Ruth as the daughter of the house in particular was very real to me. I felt like I knew her; she would be someone I would probably find annoying at first, with her posh voice and superior attitude, (having a few prejudices of my own), but then on getting to know her better I would realise that she was actually a fundamentally decent person with a lot on her plate, who wasn't afraid of getting her hands dirty, and I would have a lot of respect for her. Ruth's widowed mother Mrs Ayres has something of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations about her. She tends to live in the past in her dress sense, her expectations of those around her and her longing to keep up old traditions as well as keep the old hall going, despite the fact that they no longer have the money to do so. The son of the house, Roderick has jokingly set a stopped clock in the stable yard at twenty to nine, just as in the Dickens tale, perhaps also a little in joke about the fact that Waters storytelling is very often, lazily in my opinion, compared to Dickens. Roderick is a reserved character who has returned from active duty with both physical and mental health problems.
Although the Ayres family have some quite snobbish attitudes they are also sympathetic characters and their situation throws up some interesting arguments. On the one hand, of course old country estates needed to be broken up and council housing built or else there would still be the huge inequalities between rich and poor with the real grinding poverty and lack of opportunity that there used to be, on the other isn't there something sad about beautiful old buildings and the lifestyles that went with them being lost to history? There's a lot about the history of the British class system here, but it's not dry, it just comes into the story. The house itself could be seen as symbolic of the aristocracy of the time, falling into decay, never to be restored to it's former glory.
For a ghost story there aren't many ghostly goings until quite a way into the story. The sedate pace gives time for us to get to know the characters and their situation thoroughly and although it was all very well done I did wonder when the ghost story was going to start. In fact I'm not sure I would describe this as a ghost story. It's a mixture of spookiness, romance and sociocultural observation.
So how spooky was it? In large part it's not very spooky as the focus is not on the alleged ghost(s). The build up has plenty of suggestions and hints of unease, which I think is a strength as it is the unknown that is frightening. If you hear a bump in the night it can make all sorts of things run through your mind, but if you know what it is then you're probably not going to be scared or else at least you know what sort of action to take. I think novels have the advantage of movies in the fright factor as imagining is much more powerful than seeing. In films the appearance of supposedly scary creatures will often make me laugh. In a book your mind can make much more of less. I find anticipation to be much more scary than any final denouement, which is possibly why I have trouble with finding ghost stories satisfying. With The Little Stranger, whilst the build up had plenty of suspense and tension, I then found myself feeling detached from some parts that were probably meant to be scary. However, as I'm not easy to impress when it comes to ghost stories it's pretty good that I can say there were a couple of nice/nasty incidents in this book that gave me cause to shudder. Mrs Ayres first daughter died in the nursery, (not a spoiler - this is mentioned in the first pages), and her spirit is considered as possibly being responsible for some of the goings on, I do think children make the scariest ghosts, (that's not to say that she is the ghost). It is all very atmospheric and has a gothic feel. I felt I could picture the house perfectly, it was beautifully described, imposing and spooky in it's own right, especially when taking into account it's age, history and structure.
The book leaves a lot of things open to debate, with questions raised that are not answered definitively. This is one of the reasons it works so well, you are often left to draw your own conclusions. Rarely is anything spelt out in black and white, instead things are shrouded, misty, vague and uncertain, just as a good ghost story should be. We have the logical doctor on the one hand going out of his way to explain away anything that might be considered paranormal, his rational explanantions becoming ever more tortured as the story continues, while those around him increasingly fall prey to the idea of some sort of poltergeist. No-one can really know the answer in these cases, as it will always end with sceptics believing one explanation and believers another. So was the ending satisfying for me or another let down? After finishing the book which I enjoyed enormously, I didn't feel let down by the ending, but then neither was I fully satisfied. All I can say without giving anything away is that it leaves you thinking about it.
This seems to me to be the most restrained of Waters novels and quite a departure from her previous work. I think it may be a disappointment to some, especially those who would prefer a lesbian theme as in all her previous books, but I think it's great that she hasn't let herself be confined by her success and resolutely refuses to play to the gallery, but continues to develop her voice in her own way. The Little Stranger has unmatched evocation of time and place, impressive characterisation, interesting commentary on British class history, psychological drama and a gripping ghost story. It's also a timely reminder of what the Labour movement acheived for the poor people of this country after the war, with the advent of the NHS and the welfare state. Of her other work I would place this second only to Fingersmith which had more intensity and I found unputdownable. In contrast The Little Stranger has a neccessarily slower pace, but I still found myself absorbed in it.
The Little Stranger has topped the list for best Summer read according to a round up of newspaper critics surveyed by Booktrust, (www.booktrust.org.uk), and is currently on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize. If you're still not sure whether this is for you, you can read extracts at www.sarahwaters.com.
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (28 May 2009)
Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.6 x 4.4 cm
I find that I tend to read things by the same authors, so when I saw this book advertised as being 'a chilling ghost story' I thought I would give it a try.
The story is told from the point of view of Dr Faraday and begins when he is about ten years old, visiting a large old house where his mother is a maid. There is lots of description about the house and what it was like and even a passage about sneaking down to the servants quarters to have some food.
The story then jumps forward several years to just after the war, to show Dr Faraday when he is almost forty and as one of the local doctors in Lidcote, Warwickshire. One night he is called out to Hundreds Hall, where the Ayres family lives, because one of their servants has fallen ill. He is not their regular doctor, he is away attending to another patient, but he visits anyway and examines the girl. He finds nothing wrong with her, yet she tells of some strange presence in the house that is troubling her. This is the first we hear of the strange goings on.
Dr Faraday becomes a regular at the house, dropping by there when he can between his patients, and a few weeks later is invited to a party. This party is the start of the strange goings on, with a girl being bitten by the family dog and the master of the house being spooked in his room by things shifting without touching them. There are also odd black marks appearing on the walls. But as I said, this is just the start and things get stranger and more things start happening to the Ayres's. I won't tell you more or you won't want to read it!
The chapters are very long in this book and the first couple of chapters are spent really building up the characters, describing their actions and their mannerisms. Dr Faraday spends so much time with them which allows the reader to really get a feel for what they are like. I really started to sympathise with them and at the end I actually felt quite sad when things didn't go according to plan.
I felt that there are actually two stories running alongside each other in this book - the story of the ghost and the haunting happenings at the hall, and the love story between the doctor and the mistress of the house - Caroline. The ghost story took a long time to develop and it wasn't until chapter six where things began to get exciting. I was beginning to get a bit bored and wondering where it was going, feeling that it wasn't scary at all. But then there is a section where Mrs Ayres gets drawn into the nursery and something quite chilling occurs. This was the really scary part and was quite chilling, especially taking into account how the house had been described; you could really imagine it happening to you.
I felt that the doctor was an odd character to be telling the story. He did seem to be at the house a lot of the time so knew most of what was happening. But towards the end of the book he goes to London for two weeks on business and the story shifts to the point of view of another narrator, one who knows everything that is going on. The author makes out that when he isn't at the house he hears what goes on from his patients. I think it would have made more sense to write it from the third person, that way you can get the points of view of more than one person, which would have worked just as well. It also wouldn't have seemed so strange that even though he was in a completely different county, he still knew every intricate detail of what was going on at the house.
It was also quite annoying at times that the doctor always gave a rational explanation to the strange goings on. The master of the house, Rodderick began to lose his mind when the ghost consumed him and he got taken away to e mental hospital. This was the excuse throughout - that too much stress caused by the house had led to nervous disorders. Dr Faraday also tries to commit Mrs Ayres to a mental hospital at one point because she can talk to the ghost and feel its presence. It might have just been a sign of the time that there was no such belief in ghosts, whereas it is a bit more accepted these days.
I started this book being quite sceptical having read some reviews on Sarah Waters other books. I normally don't like books that aren't fast paced and which have long chapters, which this one did. But it really drew me in and in the end I couldn't put it down. I did get a bit bored waiting for the real ghost story to start, but it got there eventually.
This is a book to read curled up in front of a fire on a cold dark, perhaps even stormy night. This would really set the atmosphere and make it even more chilling. I was also thinking that this story would make a good film. A film version would really be able to capture the suspense and Hundreds Hall would really be able to be characterised.
I would probably read this book again and would love to see it on the big screen if that ever happened!
As a fan of Sarah Waters, and as i had already read her other four books, i was really quite excited about recieving the fifth. However, i found The Little Stranger rather different from the other books. Anyone who has read any of Sarah Waters other books, or anyone who has heard of her will know her for her period lesbien themed literature, such as 'Tipping the Velvet' or 'Affinity'. With The Little Stranger i had expected more of the same, which was deffinatly not what i got.
The Little Stranger is set in a post war English countryside, and focuses on Dr. Faraday as he aquants himself with the residents of the local country house, the Ayres familly, who live at 'Hundreds', a house which the doctor remembers from his childhood as a place his mother was staff at, its sumptuous decor and impressive inhabitants. At present day it is falling into dissrepair and the current owners find it hard to deal with the upkeep of the house, and of themselves. He starts a relationship with the Ayres as that of being their local doctor, although he soon develops something of a friendship with them, Mrs Ayres and her two 20/30 something children, Caroline and Roderick. The book centres on these relationships, especially as the Ayres family become afflicted with unexplainable illnesses which Dr. Faraday tries to cure.
The plot moves very slowly, bringing the readers attention to small details in the characters personalities and to the gradual deterioratings of the health, and of the house they live in. This book is, in essance, a ghost story, although in my opinion at times it isn't particularly easy to see this as the plot gets clouded over by the thoughts and feelings of Dr. Faraday, which at times, quite frankly drove me mad! I don't think it's easy to read a book when the main character is so dislikeable, and i think because of this i found it very hard to 'click' with this one. The description Sarah Waters uses is beautiful, you really get a feel for the place, the houses' peeling wallpaper, the gloomy deserted corridors of Hundreds and the footsteps heard creeping through them when the inhabitants are in bed at night. It is indeed very creepy. But throughout the whole book i kept waiting for something to happen. And it didn't. Although the book was slow paced i still expected a bang at the end, some twists and turns to be revealed and i was left feeling somewhat flat. There was no deffinate conclusion, and i was, on a whole, dissapointed.