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!

Spooky Little Girl by Laurie Notaro

My first ‘summer’ read.  Could be described as ‘chick lit’ – whatever that means.  A light, fluffy affair that I practically flew through in a day or two.  But not a winner, sadly.

Lucy is in her late-ish twenties, getting married in 8 weeks, and has just spent her small inheritance on a girls only vacation to Hawaii.  Perfection.  Unfortunately, when she arrives home all her stuff has been placed in the front lawn of the house she shares with her fiancee (except her dog who she’ll have to pick up later).  Then she gets fired.  With her life unraveling before her eyes, she packs up and moves in with her sister and nephew.  The next day as she’s making her way to the unemployment office – WHAM! – a bus takes her out.  Dead as a door nail – literally.

Stuck in a sort of limbo, Lucy must graduate from ghost school in order to head back down to Earth and haunt her way into The State.  She’s got good deeds and unfinished business to complete before she can truly move on – but being stuck haunting her ex-fiancee and his new bitch girlfriend (who helped get her fired) doesn’t sound like the most amazing death experience.  Will she survive her death and transcend to a heavenly afterlife or get stuck spooking the very same people who ended up making her end of days miserable?

I’ve never read anything by Notaro before, but I’ve heard her comedic works are witty and entertaining.  Spooky Little Girl sounded like a great ‘fun’ read that would require very little thinking and a lot of laughing.  And it had its moments.  The ghost school section was highly entertaining and I wish Notaro would have fleshed that part out a bit.  Instead, most of the novel’s beginning and middle are spent either in build-up to Lucy’s sudden demise and her ‘haunting’ – both of which are incredibly boring.  The haunting bit, at least the first 50 pages or so, was literally this – Lucy doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be doing, she doesn’t know her purpose, this haunting business sure is lonely – and boring.  Well, it was boring for the reader as well.  The ending definitely picked back up, but not enough to even out the roller coaster pacing.

Some of Notaro’s trademark humor does find its way into Spooky Little Girl – mostly in the ghost school section (again, best part of novel).  I wouldn’t necessarily call her witty – more like dryly sarcastic, which is fine.  I enjoy a good dose of sarcasm as much as anyone, but there wasn’t anything fresh or clever about the humor.

The characters are largely forgettable, but I wasn’t really expecting them not to be.  Lucy is rather likeable.  She never really annoyed me which is a huge plus in books of this nature.  But she never inspired me to better things either – nor did she develop really.  In place of character development, there was plot resolution.  She completes her task and gets her happy ending, but she’s still the same old Lucy at the end.  Would have preferred a bit more on that front.

I won’t delve too much into the wonky POV change 2/3 of  the way through the story.  Just know that it gets a bit weird.  Other than that oddity, the writing was fairly smooth, easy to get through, and simplistically enjoyable.  Especially in summer fare.

Before I stop my blathering, I just have to mention Tulip, the dog.  She was a great character and by far the one I cared most for.  I admit before all of you that I teared up twice during her story, but luckily things work out for Tulip in the end.  I’m such a sucker for the doggies.  Poor Lucy gets flattened by a bus – meh, no big deal.  Tulip has a growth on her leg – DEAR GOD – rush her to the emergency room right now!!  Me in a nutshell.

Reading Spooky Little Girl didn’t add or take away anything of importance to my life.  My time spent with Lucy and Tulip was fine, but not memorable.  And it didn’t encourage me to seek out more of Notaro’s work.  I’d recommend this novel to anyone who thinks the premise sounds like a good time, loves a great dog character, or just needs a brain vacation.