The Little Stranger

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Unabridged CDs • 14 CDs, 18 hours

Abundantly atmospheric and elegantly told, The Little Stranger is Sarah Waters's most thrilling and ambitious novel yet.

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Overview

Unabridged CDs • 14 CDs, 18 hours

Abundantly atmospheric and elegantly told, The Little Stranger is Sarah Waters's most thrilling and ambitious novel yet.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Scarlett Thomas
Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Sarah Waters ain't afraid of no ghost. Her new novel, a deliciously creepy tale called The Little Stranger, is haunted by the spirits of Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe. Waters is just one turn of the screw away from The Fall of the House of Usher…What saves The Little Stranger from sinking into a fetid swamp of cliche is the author's restraint, her ability, like James's, to excite our imagination through subtle suggestion alone. The supernatural creaks and groans that reverberate through this tale are accompanied by malignant strains of class envy and sexual repression that infect every perfectly reasonable explanation we hear. The result is a ghost story as intelligent as it is stylish.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Waters (The Night Watch) reflects on the collapse of the British class system after WWII in a stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor, first visited Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a parlor maid, at age 10 in 1919. When Faraday returns 30 years later to treat a servant, he becomes obsessed with Hundreds's elegant owner, Mrs. Ayres; her 24-year-old son, Roderick, an RAF airman wounded during the war who now oversees the family farm; and her slightly older daughter, Caroline, considered a "natural spinster" by the locals, for whom the doctor develops a particular fondness. Supernatural trouble kicks in after Caroline's mild-mannered black Lab, Gyp, attacks a visiting child. A damaging fire, a suicide and worse follow. Faraday, one of literature's more unreliable narrators, carries the reader swiftly along to the devastating conclusion. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Stephen King
The best book I read this year.
Entertainment Weekly
The Washington Post
Deliciously creepy...a ghost story as intelligent as it is stylish
The New York Times Book Review
Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel.
USA Today
A classic gothic page-turner.
Library Journal

Few authors do dread as well as Waters (The Night Watch). Her latest novel is a ghost story with elements of both The Fall of the House of Usher and Brideshead Revisited. In post-World War II Britain, the financially struggling Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, home of the upper-class Ayreses, now fallen on hard times. Ostensibly there to treat Roderick Ayres for a war injury, Faraday soon sees signs of mental decline-first in Roderick and later in his mother, Mrs. Ayres. Waters builds the suspense slowly, with the skeptical Faraday refusing to accept the explanations of Roderick or of the maid Betty, who believe that there is a supernatural presence in the house. Meanwhile, Faraday becomes enamored of Roderick's sister Caroline and begins to dream of building a family within the confines of the ruined Hundreds Hall. This spooky, satisfying read has the added pleasure of effectively detailing postwar village life, with its rationing, social strictures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain's massive change to a social state. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
—Devon Thomas

Kirkus Reviews
A sinister ancestral hoe in an advanced state of decay, a family terrorized by its own history, and a narrator drawn into these orbits dominate this creepy novel from Waters (The Night Watch, 2006, etc.). Shortly after the end of World War II, and nearly 30 years after first seeing magnificent Hundreds Hall as an awestruck ten-year-old, hardworking Doctor Faraday is summoned to the now-shabby Warwickshire estate to treat a young housemaid's illness. Widowed Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, crippled and traumatized by injuries sustained during his wartime tenure as a RAF pilot, and bluff, pleasant daughter Caroline quickly accept Faraday as a friend, and he is initially enchanted by the family's stoical perseverance as Hundreds Hall falls into ruin and farmlands are sold to pay off mounting debts. But worse awaits: The family's gentle dog Gyp unaccountably and severely bites a visiting young girl, and neither Faraday's continuing professional ministrations nor his growing love for plucky Caroline can save these reclusive prewar relics from the supernatural presences seemingly arisen from their past. Waters' scrupulously engineered plot builds efficiently to a truly scary highpoint halfway through her long narrative. But tensions relax perilously, as the doctor's repeated emergency visits to Hundreds Hall become almost risibly indistinguishable, and even crucial dramatic moments are muffled by fervent conversations among the four major characters. Furthermore, too many crucial pieces of information are relayed secondhand, as Faraday summarizes accounts of other people's experiences. Still, Waters has extended her range agreeably, working in traditions established by Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridanle Fanu and Wilkie Collins, expertly teasing us with suggestive allusions to the classics of supernatural fiction. A subtle clue planted in one character's given name neatly foreshadows, then explains, the Ayres family's self-destructive insularity. Flawed but nevertheless often gripping thriller from one of the most interesting novelists at work today.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Sarah Waters made her name as the writer of erotic "lesbo-Victorian romps" that effortlessly straddle the worlds of literary and genre fiction. Set in rural Warwickshire just after the Second World War, The Little Stranger is her fifth novel, the first with a male narrator, Dr. Faraday. We meet the doctor at Hundreds Hall, a former grand structure now wasting away, and home to the Ayreses for close to two centuries. Members of the landed gentry now fallen to ruin, the Ayreses -- Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, Caroline and Roderick -- seem steeped in a bygone, gentler age. Called upon to examine the housemaid, Dr Faraday finds himself strangely drawn to the dilapidated house, where his own mother used to work as a maid 30 years ago. What begins as mild fascination with the house and its residents will transform itself into something more pronounced as Dr. Faraday scrambles to make sense of the strange happenings that begin to haunt Hundreds. Unexplained marks appear on the walls, fires start on their own accord, and footsteps break the silence of unoccupied rooms. Acting both as doctor and confidant, Dr. Faraday's life becomes closely entwined with the Ayreses, even as a string of greater tragedies descend on the Hundreds. This is quintessential Waters territory -- involving madness, suicide, and an arguable murder -- perfected over the rather steep arc of her work. Dripping with psychological suspense, The Little Stranger keeps the reader guessing on whether it is an atmospheric horror story or a macabre murder mystery right to the end. --Vikram Johri
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143144809
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/30/2009
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 13 CDs
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 5.76 (h) x 1.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is the author of Tipping the Velvet, a New York Times Notable Book; Affinity, which won her the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award; Fingersmith and The Night Watch, both of which were shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize; and The Little Stranger, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and a New York Times Notable Book. She has also been named one of Granta's best young British novelists. She lives in London.  

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Reading Group Guide

1. Faraday describes Hundreds Hall early in the novel as “blurred and slightly uncertain—like an ice . . . just beginning to melt in the sun” [1]. How does this description set the tone for the story to come? How is the physical structure of Hundreds Hall reminiscent of an age past? 

2. Faraday’s friend Seeley presents the reader with two theories, the first being that Hundreds was “defeated by history, destroyed by its own failure to keep pace with a rapidly changing world,” with the Ayreses “opting for retreat;” the other that Hundreds was “consumed by some dark germ, some ravenous shadow-creature, some ‘little stranger,’ spawned from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house itself”[463]. Do you think the author leads us toward one of these more strongly than the other? To both? To neither? 

3.  “Do you really think this family’s worth saving?” Roderick asks at one point [182]. What is the role of family in The Little Stranger? Does pride and shame with regard to family influence decisions made by the main characters—including Faraday? How does his relationship to the ideal as well as the reality of family differ from Caroline’s and Roddie’s?

4. Mrs. Ayres says of Gillian Baker-Hyde: “The child will be horribly disfigured. It’s a frightful thing to happen to any parent” [105]. Discuss the motif of disfigurement in the novel.

5. In reference to Roderick’s difficulties, Faraday says, “What a punishing business it is, simply being alive” [144]. Discuss this idea: Is Faraday speaking only from observation, do you think? Or is he expressing a deep conviction?

6. Faraday says, “We family doctors are like priests. People tell us their secrets, because they know we won’t judge them. . . . Some doctors don’t like it. I’ve known one or two who’ve seen so much weakness they’ve developed a sort of contempt for mankind” [144]. How much truth do you think there is to this statement—are doctors and other professionals who hold confidences likely to develop either particular contempt or particular compassion for mankind? How would you characterize Faraday’s own position on the human race in general? Does it change over the course of the novel?

7. “Love isn’t a thing that can be weighed or measured,” Faraday says [204]. Do you agree?

8. Is Faraday a reliable narrator? Why or why not? Discuss other narrators about whom this question could be asked. A few examples might be Humbert Humbert, in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Tarquin Winot, in The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester; and Antonio Salieri, in Peter Shaffer’s play (later a film) Amadeus—you will probably be able to think of others.

9. How does the “Baker-Hyde polish” [82] compare to the impression the Ayreses make on others? Why do the Ayreses find the fact that the Baker-Hydes are ripping out the panelling at Standish so offensive? What does the author have to say about “new money” versus “old money?” 

10. Despite the strange happenings at Hundreds Hall that he relates throughout the novel, Dr. Faraday remains a voice of reason as narrator. Compare his attitude to that of each of the Ayreses with regard to these happenings. What do you think the author is suggesting about rationality, the supernatural, delusion, even madness? Are reason and the supernatural incompatible?

11. Memory and history are powerful forces attracting the characters to the house. How does Faraday’s history with Hundreds affect his feelings about it? About the Ayreses? How does Mrs. Ayres’s personal history affect her feelings about Hundreds? 

12. Do you find Caroline and Dr. Faraday’s romance a strange one? Do you think Caroline was ever invested in the relationship? Was Faraday? Do you think their marriage could have been a success, for one or both parties? 

13. England has just come out of a bloody world-wide war that has changed so much for everyone. How did WWII specifically affect Faraday? Caroline? Discuss how the post-war world might have looked for Caroline if she had never had to come home to care for Roddie. 

14. How has the war changed society generally and how has it shaken up the British class system? Do you think Faraday  will “fit” more comfortably in the coming years than he seems to have thus far in his life? Why or why not? What do you think about Hilary Mantel’s description of The Little Stranger as “a perverse hymn to decay, to the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by the war.” 

15. The gothic literary tradition is often associated with horror, romance and melodrama. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious, or violent incidents.” In what ways does The Little Stranger fit into this tradition? How does it compare to other gothic texts—from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries—that you may have read? In what ways is The Little Stranger not like them?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 146 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(33)

4 Star

(39)

3 Star

(29)

2 Star

(24)

1 Star

(21)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 146 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    THE LITTLE STRANGER

    I am not a fan of ghost stories and bought this book on the basis of a review that described it as a study of social changes in Britain after WWII. (Shades of Brideshead Revisited.)
    I am a fan of psychological thrillers, however, and thoroughly enjoyed this one. It is atmospheric, intriguing and provides insight into a way of life now mostly gone. The best part is that once you figure out what's going on, there's a lot of enjoyment to be had to go backwards and put it all together. I stayed up the better part of a night just reviewing details and then thinking, "Of course." It's been a long time since a book engaged me so fully.

    16 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2009

    very disappointed with this book, a waste of my reading time.

    I wish I had read the readers reviews before I purchased this book. I was extremely disappointed and agree with the one star and two star reviews whole heartedly. It is much too long and dull,characters just don't interest the reader. Where are the editors with some of todays books? I really was pushing myself wondering if I was just missing something, the plot just isn't there. Its never explained what exactly or who is the "ghost" causing all the bad vibrations. I usually pass on my books to my family, and very seldom do I feel that I cannot pass some book along and subject them to a long, boring, can't wait for it to end read. I certainly will give serious thought befor I purchase a book by this author.

    11 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2009

    Boo

    This book was a big disappointment. It's surprisingly dull, sluggishly paced, and worst of all, not scary, even at its so-called peaks. I am at a loss to explain the critical approval evident in other reviews---maybe my expectations were far too high. The ghost factor seems an afterthought in a novel that is mostly a social study on a dying and dysfunctional aristocratic family. It's a familiar English novel about a familiar English situation, and I never felt any real interest or empathy for the characters, especially the narrator, a maddeningly dense and over-complacent wimp who would have been more believable wearing a dress. Waters has a talent for visual detail and her settings are clearly well-researched, but the failure to cause more than the faintest genuine frisson as a ghost story doom this book for all but the most tolerant anglophiles. English writers have produced some of the best ghost stories ever written, and in light of this legacy, "The Little Stranger" is inexcusably weak tea both as a straight story of the supernatural or as a psychological treatment of inexplicable events. In fact, the novel is the literary equivalent of vasocongestion---it promises a thrill but never delivers.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    OMINOUS!

    This book is a ghost story taking place shortly after World War II. The main character is a doctor named Faraday who tells the story from his point of view. He seems to be caught between resentment at the Ayres hanging on to a dead life style which makes him beneath them and jealously at their once grand social position. Either way he can't tear himself away from the Hall.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    When airport delays are more exciting than the novel, you know you have a problem

    I debated giving this novel two stars, based solely on the fact that the author was able to string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs and maintain the a forward flow of events that might loosely be called a plot, but I think that that is just the overly generous 4th grade teacher in me. From beginning to end this book was a poorly structured, slow moving, burden upon the reader.

    In the past, Sarah Waters' work has been delightful to read; Tipping the Velvet and Affinity are perennial favorites of mine and I can still become lost in Fingersmith, even on a 4th or 5th reading. Night Watch, while not nearly as engaging as the first "trilogy," had its highlights, and presented its own "war story" in a new light and I was greatly looking forward reading The Little Stranger.

    My first inclination that something was wrong came when I was able to put the book down less than half an hour after starting it... while taxing on a runway, no less.

    The Little Stranger starts off slowly, and never picks up speed. Even the parts that could arguably be called climaxes (and there is no single climax in the novel... it is more an elongated path with small uphills along the way) have no sense of urgency to them. I would like to be optimistic and say that Waters did this on purpose as a sort of metaphor, tying the structure of the novel and the action (if it can be called that) of the plot together in a way that mirrors the lives of the characters and makes a larger statement about the plight of upper middle/lower upper-class gentry following the war, but I feel that insisting as such would just my own attempt to justify one of my favorite authors writing such a disappointing tome.

    Similarly disappointing are the characters and their seemingly one-sided personalities and reactions to the world around them. While a lack of clear motivation on a character's part can be intriguing ( when done properly, the reader is shocked and left wondering, "Why on Earth would he/she act that way, it makes no sense! I must read more to find out!), in The Little Stranger this omission simply comes across as an awkward failure to flesh out the 4 main characters. By failing to give the reader anyone to sympathize with (in the end I found the only likable character to be the 13 year old maid who wants nothing more than to get the hell out of the house!), an optimist might say that the author was being clever and saying that one might not always find a relatable character in every situation, but again I feel arguing this would just be a disillusioned fan's attempt to justify a flop.

    With any luck, Waters will come out with a 6th novel that is half as spectacular as Fingersmith. Until then, save yourself the money and take this book out of the library if you feel that you must read it.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Little Stranger is one that'll keep you guessing till the end.

    This book is done in the subtle style of The Others & proved extremely difficult to put down. The detail is painted so vibrantly, you can actually see "The Hundreds" in your mind as well as the characters. The only sad thing is that the "instigator" never realizes it was he/she who set everything in motion even after a detailed descussion over possible causes of the events. The author doesn't come out & tell you either so you have to pay attention or you'll miss it and be left wondering what was it really about?
    I also highly recommend anything by Phil Rickman, a Welsh author who makes it not only hard to put the book down, but hard to turn the lights out at night. I listed a few of the "stand alone" titles but he also writes a series featuring a character named Merrily Watkins who is a licensed exorcist thru the Church of England and the trial she faces being a single mother, the situations being an exorcist puts her in, dealing with being a female cleric & the only female exorcist.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2010

    Stephen King was right!

    In a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King listed his favorite books of the year, a list which I adhere to very strictly. And, as usual, he hit the mark with The Little Stranger. It is, in fact, so well written, that I've read it twice and enlisted a friend to read it as well, and I'm still not quite sure what REALLY happened. There could be more than one evil lurking in the lives of the Ayres family. It is classic English Literature at it's best - similar in some ways to The Thirteenth Tale and Jane Eyre, and it is an enticing read! Sarah Waters writes in such a way that you feel you are guiltlessly eavesdropping into the spooky lives of her characters. And the horror, which creeps slowly into focus, is always just beyond your grasp. In fact, I'm still not sure who or what was responsible for the fate of this interesting family. I promise you will enjoy this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Enthralling Thriller

    The premise of this book intrigued me-an old, deteriorating mansion in England, mysterious occurrences. it begged me to pick it up. This book is promoted as a sort of ghost story, but I tell you it is not quite that definitive. It was a beautifully written story, and though it took 100 pages to truly move forward, I found I was not bored by it in any way. I found the house and the people in it to be intriguing and I was curious about their interactions and the developments of their relationships. When the story took a turn after that 100 page mark, I found myself not just intrigued, but now gripping onto the pages, anxious to turn them. I even teared up in the middle of the book. Strange things start to happen in that house and the author lets you mull it around in your mind, debating if the culprit is potentially supernatural or purely the result of a deteriorating mind slipping into madness.

    I found it to be quite an enjoyable read and I recommend it. If you are not a fan of ghost stories, please don't be turned away. This is a wonderful piece that could also be classified as historical fiction.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    Worth a read

    I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written and grabbed me from the beginning. Although hardly a horror or thriller, there were some scary moments. The author keeps you in suspense, wanting more and looking for answers in the end. However, details about what really happens in the house are not clear. There's no explanation for any of it and it leaves the reader hanging.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Frost at Midnight

    Sarah Waters broadens her scope with this delightful modern take on the gothic novel. Almost as subtle as Henry James in "The Turn of the Screw," she uses a masterful restraint to build both tension and atmosphere until the reader experiences both the progressive and inexorable decay of Hundreds Hall and the growing evil that attaches to it. She is both deft and coy with her allusions while making the air crepitate with menace. On page 357, Dr. Faraday, the somewhat dense protagonist and narrator who prides himself on his rationality, asks Caroline Ayres, the new chatelaine of Hundreds, to say a poem. "'A poem! All right.' And she went on in a prompt, perfunctory way: 'The frost performs its secret ministry, Unhelped by any wind.'" The throwaway line is anything but -- it is both the key to the origin of the title of the novel and the key to its mystery. The line is the opening of Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," which must be read in full together with the poet's own footnote in order fully to understand Waters' thought process and completely to appreciate her subtle mastery of a difficult genre. In Dr. Faraday's memory of the cri de coeur of Caroline Ayres on the last page of the novel, the reader is at last permitted to see the true nature of the horror that will elude the poor doctor until his longing finds (one hopes) an end in death. Well done, Ms. Waters!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    loved it!

    I loved this book, The Little Stranger. The setting was depicted perfectly with the writers beautiful style of writing, wonderful descriptions and excellent development of each character. Visually, I could see the whole story in my head, would actually make a good movie. I will say that the ending could have been beefed up a bit but overall I was very happy to dive into the whole world that was so richly depicted.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Classic gothic story

    I was totally engrossed in this story. The ending is incredible - I was so stunned that I had to read it twice. This is a MUST read for fans of Rebecca and the Thirteenth Tale.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    a ghost story with substance

    This was a slow-developing novel. I can understand criticism from those for whom it developed too slowly, though I don't know what might be cut, since the slowness doesn't come from a wandering of focus; it's simply slowly paced. I am surprised, however, by reviews that indicate that the events--or the source of the events--aren't explained. If one misses the many clues and foreshadowings, which grow more apparent as the novel nears its climax, then surely the final line all but states the explanation, or at least the source of the phenomena. It's quite clear, and what's so wonderful about the novel is how well woven the theme—of class and the fall of the aristocracy—is woven into the fabric of the ghost story. There's nothing pasted on here; the two explorations (or the plot and the theme, I suppose) are really one, which is the mark of a solidly conceived novel. The more I replay this novel in my mind, the more impressed I become. I would give 4 1/2 stars if I could.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2011

    A wonderfully haunting read

    Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger was a compelling and entrancing read. The synopsis on the site is slightly misleading - those expecting a full-on ghost story will likely be disappointed. But the book achieves far more, weaving a truly terrifying tale of a formerly grand family's harrowing decline. Waters really takes her time developing the story, which may seem like wandering to some readers, justifiably. But the end contains a delicious payoff and imbues the entire story with full meaning - and dread. Waters' use of Dr. Faraday as the seemingly reliable narrator is especially praiseworthy. The Booker Finalist nomination was well-deserved.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2010

    Intriguing. Its a pretty good story

    Not as scary as I had thought (this is a good thing, because is is not a horror book). Just a suspenseful book about a supposedly haunted house.
    Kind of on the long side though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2009

    Haunting

    At times I found it long or repetitive, but for me it was certainly moving and stuck in my head for a long time. It takes you to that time and involves you in the story

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This Book is Boring!

    I had high hopes for this book and it failed. I was bored reading it. I kept looking at how many pages I had left to get to the good parts but they never came. Disapointment.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    If It's Raining Outside, Grab a Cup of Tea and This Book

    This is a classic dark gothic sneak-up-on-you and grab-you-by-the-throat book! I had a difficult time putting it down. It starts a bit slow but builds to a wonderful crescendo and leaves you very satisfied at the end. In fact, you want more. The setting is dreary, the house is falling down, the characters worn and a bit sad, but that is what is so wonderful about the book - the characters perfectly suit their backdrop and their story. It is an enduring love story and a Greek tragedy all wrapped up together. The Little Stranger is one of the books I am keeping for another read on another rainy, dark day!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2009

    Such a disappointment

    I had such high hopes based on reviews. I am learning more and more that perhaps reviewers have a vested interest in a book doing well and therefore they are really not to be trusted. If a review from Publishers Weekly comes out, well...consider the source. the book was promising for so long and then it became clear there was no there there. there was no story, certainly nothing fleshed out and satisfactorily explained. I will not read anything by this author again. Gave it a shot and just THANK GOD I got the book from the library. Will NOT recommend it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    Beauty and Brutality

    Sarah Waters has written a masterpiece. The story seems an ordinary gothic ghost tale at first. By the time the "little stranger" appears the nature of each character is smoothly and seamlessly revealed so that we know these people very well, and understand how they relate to each other.

    Ms. Waters brilliantly exposes the raw nether regions of the minds of the three surviving Ayres, an old upper class family slipping into financial ruin who live in a two century old crumbling mansion and she explores their complex and nuanced relationship with their teenage maid Betty, and their soon to be family Doctor, Dr. Faraday, who himself is the off spring of working class parents (his mother had once been a nursemaid for the Ayers). And it is Dr. Faraday who narrates the tale.

    Each of these characters is still trapped in the dying yet still breathing English class hierarchy. Their minds are still captured by the old class structure but the mental wall between the rational and surreal has also begun to warp and crack like the house, allowing cruel and filthy monsters of their subconcious seep out and take shape in the arhitecturally gorgeous yet damp and gloomy spaces of the mansion.

    Dr. Faraday felt an almost violent love for the beautiful Ayres mansion when he first saw it as a ten year old boy. He was already recognized as a highly intellegent child, and so his mother was shocked when she learned that on his visit to the house he used his scout pen knife to gauge out a plaster acorn from the elaborate framing of one wall. Not to vandalize it, he explains, but to keep something of this magnificent house with him.

    One day, thirty years or more later, by chance, he returns to the mansion to tend to Betty who has fibbed about having a stomach problem. He is saddened to find the beautiful manse he loved as child has been falling into decrepitude, but his longing for the house is once again awakened.

    This is not a mystery to solve. It is a brilliant study of the beauty yet ultimate brutality of the dying class system and we can continue to delve into and ponder the characters of this book long after reading the final sentence.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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