The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

6065182I purchased this book last December or maybe this past January (bad memory) on a whim from bn.com when they were having one of those super end-of-year sales.  It’s a gorgeous brand new hardback, signed edition that cost only $3.  How does such amazingness happen?  Anyway, I’ve watched so many bloggers read and write wonderful things about this novel over the year that I knew I couldn’t end 2012 a Sarah Waters virgin.

The Little Stranger is about an old crumbling mansion and the family that is falling to pieces with it. Mesmerized by Hundreds Hall (the previously mentioned mansion) since childhood, county doctor Faraday begins to insinuate himself into the grand ol’ home and the Ayres family when spooky, unexplained phenomena start to occur.  And that’s all you’re getting!

Waters’s novel is not plot driven and is really meant to be read slowly and savored.  Her prose is lush and lingering.  Reading The Little Stranger is almost like watching a really immersive 3-D film – you feel as if you are literally walking the deteriorating halls of Hundreds, hearing the random knocks and pattering footsteps, and shivering against the windy drafts seeking harbor from the unkempt gardens.  It’s these small hints that add such layered atmosphere and a creepy foreshadowing of certain doom.  Waters has become another novelist I’m sure I’ll never get enough of.

Dr. Faraday, along with the Ayres family (Mrs. Ayres, Caroline, and Roderick) weren’t incredibly likable, but I don’t think the story would have worked any other way.  Feeling that disconnect from the people inhabiting the story left me successfully out-of-balance, adding to the sort of foreign uneasiness of any well done ghost story.  By the novel’s end, I really believe I hated Dr. Faraday more than anyone else and had decided he was far from a reliable narrator.  I have my sincere suspicions about his guilt/blame in the whole fiasco.

Speaking of the end, it’s not entirely satisfying for many readers because you never fully know what happens and there’s lots of room left for debate about who ‘the little stranger’ was all along or even if such a creature existed.  These sorts of open endings intrigue me, however, and I love sitting back for the following few days trying to wrap my brain around all the possibilities.  I like interacting with literature in that way.  It’s a wonder I don’t read more mystery novels.

As a ghost story, The Little Stranger manages decent success especially if you prefer your ghosts without any serious spook factor.  Only once or twice did I fear reading the next few lines (damn those key holes!) and had no problems turning the pages at night in the house all alone.  Instead, I just felt a great sense of longing and decay – a sadness.  Not a bad thing by any means because Waters totally transcends the haunted house genre – delving much more deeply into themes of yearning, holding on to the past, the social class system of 1940s Britain, and the nature of entitlement.

A great book to curl up with during cold, wintry nights!

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8 thoughts on “The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

  1. This was an excellent review of a book that I own, but have not yet read. I love the fact that it’s creepy and decadent without being scary, and the fact that it had an open ending really fascinates me. I love open endings and gorgeous writing. I am now highly anticipating spending some time with this novel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it with us! Your review really was outstanding!

  2. The descriptions of the mansion sound excellent. I’ll have to read it. If you want more mysteries (of the non supernatural variety) to read, try Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories. My favorite is Strong Poison.

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