The Little Stranger

( 146 )

Overview

"The #1 book of 2009...Several sleepless nights are guaranteed."—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the ...

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Overview

"The #1 book of 2009...Several sleepless nights are guaranteed."—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.
 
 

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Editorial Reviews

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
Scarlett Thomas
Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel.
—The New York Times
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)

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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: 9781594484469
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 154,527
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.30 (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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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1, Part 1

I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old. It was the summer after the war, and the Ayreses still had most of their money then, were still big people in the district. The event was an Empire Day fête: I stood with a line of other village children making a Boy Scout salute while Mrs Ayres and the Colonel went past us, handing out commemorative medals; afterwards we sat to tea with our parents at long tables on what I suppose was the south lawn. Mrs Ayres would have been twenty-four or -five, her husband a few years older; their little girl, Susan, would have been about six. They must have made a very handsome family, but my memory of them is vague. 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. They made it look blurred and slightly uncertain–like an ice, I thought, just beginning to melt in the sun.

There were no trips inside, of course. The doors and French windows stood open, but each had a rope or a ribbon tied across it; the lavatories set aside for our use were the grooms’ and the gardeners’, in the stable block. My mother, however, still had friends among the servants, and when the tea was finished and people were given the run of the grounds, she took me quietly into the house by a side door, and we spent a little time with the cook and the kitchen girls. The visit impressed me terribly. The kitchen was a basement one, reached by a cool vaulted corridor with something of the feel of a castle dungeon. An extraordinary number of people seemed to be coming and going along it with hampers and trays. The girls had such a mountain of crockery to wash, my mother rolled up her sleeves to help them; and to my very great delight, as a reward for her labour I was allowed to take my pick of the jellies and ‘shapes’ that had come back uneaten from the fête. I was put to sit at a deal-topped table, and given a spoon from the family’s own drawer–a heavy thing of dulled silver, its bowl almost bigger than my mouth.

But then came an even greater treat. High up on the wall of the vaulted passage was a junction-box of wires and bells, and when one of these bells was set ringing, calling the parlourmaid upstairs, she took me with her, so that I might peep past the green baize curtain that separated the front of the house from the back. I could stand and wait for her there, she said, if I was very good and quiet. I must only be sure to keep behind the curtain, for if the Colonel or the missus were to see me, there’d be a row.

I was an obedient child, as a rule. But the curtain opened onto the corner junction of two marble-floored passages, each one filled with marvellous things; and once she had disappeared softly in one direction, I took a few daring steps in the other. The thrill of it was astonishing. I don’t mean the simple thrill of trespass, I mean the thrill of the house itself, which came to me from every surface–from the polish on the floor, the patina on wooden chairs and cabinets, the bevel of a looking-glass, the scroll of a frame. I was drawn to one of the dustless white walls, which had a decorative plaster border, a representation of acorns and leaves. I had never seen anything like it, outside of a church, and after a second of looking it over I did what strikes me now as a dreadful thing: I worked my fingers around one of the acorns and tried to prise it from its setting; and when that failed to release it, I got out my penknife and dug away with that. I didn’t do it in a spirit of vandalism. I wasn’t a spiteful or destructive boy. It was simply that, in admiring the house, I wanted to possess a piece of it–or rather, as if the admiration itself, which I suspected a more ordinary child would not have felt, entitled me to it. I was like a man, I suppose, wanting a lock of hair from the head of a girl he had suddenly and blindingly become enamoured of.

I’m afraid the acorn gave at last, though less cleanly than I’d been expecting, with a tug of fibre and a fall of white powder and grit; I remember that as disappointing. Possibly I’d imagined it to be made of marble.

But nobody came, nobody caught me. It was, as they say, the work of a moment. I put the acorn in my pocket, and slipped back behind the curtain. The parlourmaid returned a minute later and took me back downstairs; my mother and I said goodbye to the kitchen staff, and rejoined my father in the garden. I felt the hard plaster lump in my pocket, now, with a sort of sick excitement. I’d begun to be anxious that Colonel Ayres, a frightening man, would discover the damage and stop the fête. But the afternoon ran on without incident until the bluish drawing-in of dusk. My parents and I joined other Lidcote people for the long walk home, the bats flitting and wheeling with us along the lanes as if whirled on invisible strings.

My mother found the acorn, of course, eventually. I had been drawing it in and out of my pocket, and it had left a chalky trail on the grey flannel of my shorts. When she understood what the queer little thing in her hand was, she almost wept. She didn’t smack me, or tell my father; she never had the heart for arguments. Instead she looked at me, with her tearful eyes, as if baffled and ashamed.

‘You ought to know better, a clever lad like you,’ I expect she said.

People were always saying things like that to me when I was young. My parents, my uncles, my schoolmasters–all the various adults who interested themselves in my career. The words used to drive me into secret rages, because on the one hand I wanted desperately to live up to my own reputation for cleverness; and on the other it seemed very unfair, that that cleverness, which I had never asked for, could be turned into something with which to cut me down.

The acorn was put on the fire. I found the blackened nub of it among the clinker, next day. That must have been the last grand year for Hundreds Hall, anyway. The following Empire Day fête was given by another family, in one of the neighbouring big houses; Hundreds had started its steady decline. Soon afterwards the Ayreses’ daughter died, and Mrs Ayres and the Colonel began to live less publicly. I dimly remember the births of their next two children, Caroline and Roderick–but by then I was at Leamington College, and busy with bitter little battles of my own. My mother died when I was fifteen. She had had miscarriage after miscarriage, it turned out, all through my childhood, and the last one killed her. My father lived just long enough to see me graduate from medical school and return to Lidcote a qualified man. Colonel Ayres died a few years later–an aneurism, I think.

With his death, Hundreds Hall withdrew even further from the world. The gates of the park were kept almost permanently closed. The solid brown stone boundary wall, though not especially  high, was high enough to seem forbidding. And for all that the house was such a grand one, there was no spot, on any of the lanes in that part of Warwickshire, from which it could be glimpsed. I sometimes thought of it, tucked away in there, as I passed the wall on my rounds–picturing it always as it had seemed to me that day in 1919, with its handsome brick faces, and its cool marble passages, each one filled with marvellous things.

So when I did see the house again–almost thirty years on from that first visit, and shortly after the end of another war–the changes in it appalled me. It was the purest chance that took me out there, for  the Ayreses were registered with my partner, David Graham; but he was busy with an emergency case that day, so when the family sent out for a doctor the request was passed on to me. My heart began to sink almost the moment I let myself into the park. I remembered a long approach to the house through neat rhododendron and laurel, but the park was now so overgrown and untended, my small car had to fight its way down the drive. When I broke free of the bushes at last and found myself on a sweep of lumpy gravel with the Hall directly ahead of me, I put on the brake, and gaped in dismay. The house was smaller than in memory, of course–not quite the mansion I’d been recalling– but I’d been expecting that. What horrified me were the signs of decay. Sections of the lovely weathered edgings seemed to have fallen completely away, so that the house’s uncertain Georgian outline was even more tentative than before. Ivy had spread, then patchily died, and hung like tangled rat’s-tail hair. The steps leading up to the broad front door were cracked, with weeds growing lushly up through the seams.

I parked my car, climbed out, and almost feared to slam the door. The place, for so large and solid a structure, felt precarious. No one appeared to have heard me arrive, so after a little hesitation I went crunching over the gravel and gingerly climbed the cracked stone steps. It was a hot, still summer’s day–so windless that when I tugged on the tarnished old brass and ivory bell-pull I caught the ring of it, pure and clear, but distant, as if in the belly of the house. The ring was immediately followed by the faint, gruff barking of a dog. 

The barks were very soon cut off, and for another long minute there was silence. Then, from somewhere to my right, I heard the scrape of an irregular footstep, and a moment later the son of the family, Roderick, appeared around the corner of the house. He squinted over at me with some suspicion, until noticing the bag in my hand. Drawing a collapsed-looking cigarette from his mouth he called, ‘You’re the doctor, are you? We were expecting Dr Graham.’

His tone was friendly enough, but had a touch of languor to it; as if he were bored by the sight of me already. I left the steps and went over to him, introducing myself as Graham’s partner, explaining about Graham’s emergency case. He answered blandly, ‘Well, it’s good of you to come out. On a Sunday, too; and such a filthy hot one. Come this way, would you? It’s quicker than going right through the house. I’m Roderick Ayres, by the way.’

We had in fact met before, on more than one occasion. But  he’d clearly forgotten that, and as we moved off he gave me his hand for a perfunctory shake. His fingers felt queer against mine, rough as crocodile in some spots, oddly smooth in others: his hands had been burned, I knew, in a wartime accident, along with a good part of his face. The scars aside, he was handsome: taller than me, but, at twenty-four, still boyish and slender. He was dressed boyishly too, in an open-necked shirt, summer trousers, and  stained canvas shoes. He walked unhurriedly, and with a noticeable limp.

He said as we went, ‘You know why we called you, I suppose?’

I said, ‘I was told, for one of your maids.’

‘One of our maids! I like that. There’s only the one: our girl, Betty. Some stomach problem, it seems to be.’ He looked dubious. ‘I don’t know. My mother, my sister and I tend to manage without doctors as a rule. We muddle through with colds and headaches. But I gather that neglecting the servants is a capital offence these days; they’re to get better treatment than us, apparently. So we thought we ought to send for someone. Watch your step just here, look.’

He had taken me along a gravelled terrace that ran the length of the north side of the Hall; he indicated a spot where the terrace had subsided, making for treacherous dips and cracks. I picked my way around them, interested to have been given a chance to see this side of the house–but aghast, again, at how badly the place had been allowed to decline. The garden was a chaos of nettle and bindweed. There was a faint but definite whiff of blocked drains. The windows we passed were streaked and dusty; all were closed, and most were shuttered, except for a pair of glass doors that stood open at the top of a set of flying stone steps wound about with convolvulus. They gave me a view of a large untidy room, a desk with a mess of papers on it, an edge of brocade curtain . . . That was all I had time to see. We had reached a narrow service doorway, and Roderick was standing aside to let me pass.

‘Go on, would you?’ he said, gesturing with one of his scarred hands. ‘My sister’s downstairs. She’ll show you to Betty, and fill you in.’

Only later, recalling his injured leg, would I guess that he must not have wanted me to see him struggling with stairs. As it was, I thought his manner rather casual, and I went past him, saying nothing. At once, I heard him crunching quietly away in his rubber-soled shoes.

But I went quietly, myself. This narrow doorway, I had realised, was the one through which my mother had more or less smuggled me, all those years before. I remembered the bare stone stairway it led to, and, following the steps down, I found myself in the dim vaulted passage that had so impressed me then. But here was another disappointment. I had been picturing this passage as something like a crypt or a dungeon; in fact its walls were the glossy cream-and-green of police- and fire-stations, there was a strip of coconut matting on the flagstone floor, and a mop sat sourly in a bucket. Nobody emerged to greet me, but to my right a half-open door offered a glimpse of the kitchen, so I went softly over and looked inside. Yet another damp squib: I found a large, lifeless room with Victorian counters and mortuary surfaces, all brutally scoured and scrubbed. Only the old deal table–the very table, by the look of it, where I had eaten my jellies and ‘shapes’– recalled the excitement of that first visit. It was also the only thing in the room to bear any sign of activity, for there was a small pile of muddy vegetables put out on it, together with a bowl of water and a knife–the water discoloured, and the knife wet, as if someone had recently started the task and been called away.

I stepped back; and my shoe must have creaked, or scuffed against the coconut matting. There came again the gruff excited barking of a dog–alarmingly close, this time–and a second later an elderly black Labrador burst from somewhere into the passage and began hurtling towards me. I stood still with my bag raised while it barked and pranced around me, and soon a young woman appeared behind it, saying mildly, ‘All right, you idiotic creature, that’s enough! Gyp! Enough!–I’m so sorry.’ She drew nearer, and I recognised Roderick’s sister, Caroline. ‘I can’t bear a leaping dog, and he knows it. Gyp!’ She reached forward to give him a swipe upon his haunches with the back of her hand; and at that he subsided.

‘Little imbecile,’ she said, tugging his ears with a look of indulgence. ‘It’s touching really. He thinks every stranger’s come to cut our throats and make off with the family silver. We haven’t the heart to tell him the silver’s all been popped. I thought we were getting Dr Graham. You’re Dr Faraday. We’ve never been properly introduced, have we?’

She smiled as she spoke, and offered me her hand. Her grip was firmer than her brother’s had been, and more sincere.

I’d only ever seen her at a distance before, at county events, or on the streets of Warwick and Leamington. She was older than Roderick, twenty-six or twenty-seven, and I’d regularly heard her referred to locally as ‘rather hearty’, a ‘natural spinster’, a ‘clever girl’–in other words she was noticeably plain, over-tall for a woman, with thickish legs and ankles. Her hair was a pale English brown and might, with proper treatment, have been handsome, but I had never seen it tidy, and just now it fell drily to her shoulders, as if she had washed it with kitchen soap and then forgotten to comb it. Added to that, she had the worst dress sense of any woman I ever knew. She was wearing boyish flat sandals and a badly fitting pale summer dress, not at all flattering to her wide hips and large bosom. Her eyes were hazel, highly set; her face was long with an angular jaw, her profile flattish. Only her mouth, I thought, was good: surprisingly large, well-shaped, and mobile.

I explained again about Graham’s emergency case and the call having been passed on to me. She said, as her brother had, ‘Well, it’s good of you to have come all this way. Betty hasn’t been with us very long; less than a month. Her family live over on the other side of Southam, just too far for us to think of bothering them. The mother, anyway, is by all accounts a bit of a bad lot . . . She started complaining about her stomach last night, and when she seemed no better this morning, well, I thought we ought to make sure. Will you look at her right away? She’s just up here.’

She turned as she spoke, moving off on her muscular legs, and the dog and I followed. The room she took me into was right at the end of the corridor, and might once, I thought, have been housekeeper’s parlour. It was smaller than the kitchen, but like the rest of the basement it had a stone floor and high, stunted windows, and the same drab institutional paint. There was a narrow grate, swept clean, a faded armchair and a table, and a metal-framed bed–the kind which, when not in use, can be folded and raised and tucked out of sight in a cavity in the cupboard behind it. Lying beneath the covers of this bed, dressed in a petticoat or sleeveless nightdress, was a figure so small and slight I took it at first to be that of a child; looking closer, I saw it to be an undergrown teenage girl. She made an attempt to push herself up when she saw me in the doorway, but fell pathetically back against her pillow as I approached. I sat on the bed at her side and said, ‘Well, you’re Betty, are you? My name’s Dr Faraday. Miss Ayres tells me you’ve had a tummy ache. How are you feeling now?’

She said, in a bad country accent, ‘Please, Doctor, I’m awful poorly!’

‘Have you been sick at all?’

She shook her head.

‘Any diarrhoea? You know what that is?’

She nodded; then shook her head again.

I opened up my bag. ‘All right, let’s have a look at you.’

She parted her childish lips just far enough to let me slip the bulb of the thermometer under her tongue, and when I drew down the neck of her nightdress and set the chilly stethoscope to her chest, she flinched and groaned. Since she came from a local family, I had probably seen her before, if only to give her her school vaccination; but I had no memory of it now. She was an unmemorable sort of girl. Her colourless hair was bluntly cut, and fastened with a grip at the side of her forehead. Her face was broad, her eyes wide-spaced; the eyes themselves were grey and, like many light eyes, rather depthless. Her cheek was pale, only darkening slightly in a blush of self-consciousness when I put up her nightdress to examine her stomach, exposing her dingy flannel knickers.

As soon as I placed my fingers lightly on the flesh above her navel, she gave a gasp, crying out–almost screaming. I said soothingly, ‘All right. Now, where does it hurt most? Here?’

She said, ‘Oh! All over!’

‘Does the pain come sharply, like a cut? Or is it more like an ache, or a burn?’

‘It’s like an ache,’ she cried, ‘with cuts all in it! But it’s burning, too! Oh!’ She screamed again, opening her mouth wide at last, revealing a healthy tongue and throat and a row of little crooked teeth.
‘All right,’ I said again, pulling her nightie back down. And after a moment’s thought I turned to Caroline–who had been standing in the open doorway with the Labrador beside her, looking anxiously on–and said, ‘Could you leave me alone with Betty for a minute, please, Miss Ayres?’

She frowned at the seriousness of my tone. ‘Yes, of course.’

She made a gesture to the dog, and took him out into the passage. When the door was closed behind her I put away my stethoscope and thermometer, and closed my bag with a snap. I looked at the pale-faced girl and said quietly, ‘Now then, Betty. This puts me in a ticklish position. For there’s Miss Ayres out there, who’s gone to an awful lot of trouble to try and make you better; and here am I, knowing for a fact that there’s nothing at all I can do for you.’

She stared at me. I said more plainly, ‘Do you think I don’t have more important things to do on my day off than come chasing five miles out of Lidcote to look after naughty little girls? I’ve a good mind to send you to Leamington to have your appendix out. There’s nothing wrong with you.’

Her face turned scarlet. She said, ‘Oh, Doctor, there is!’

‘You’re a good actress, I’ll give you that. All that screaming and thrashing about. But if I want play-acting, I’ll go to the theatre. Who do you think’s going to pay me now, hey? I don’t come cheap, you know.’

The mention of money frightened her. She said with genuine  anxiety, ‘I am poorly! I am! I did feel sick last night. I felt sick horrible.  And I thought–’

‘What? That you’d like a nice day in bed?’

‘No! You in’t being fair! I did feel poorly. And I just thought–’

And here her voice began to thicken, and her grey eyes filled with tears. ‘I just thought,’ she repeated, unsteadily, ‘that if I was as poorly as that, then–then perhaps I ought to go home for a bit. Till I got better.’

She turned her face from me, blinking. The tears rose in her eyes, then ran in two straight lines down her little girl’s cheeks. I said, ‘Is that what this is all about? You want to go home? Is that it?’–and she put her hands across her face and cried properly.

A doctor sees lots of tears; some more affecting than others. I really did have a heap of chores at home, and was not at all amused to have been dragged away from them for nothing. But she looked so young and pathetic, I let her have the cry out. Then I touched her shoulder and said firmly, ‘Come on now, that’s enough. Tell me what the trouble is. Don’t you like it here?’

She produced a limp blue handkerchief from under her pillow, and blew her nose.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t.’

‘Why not? Is the work too hard?’

She gave a hopeless shrug. ‘The work’s all right.’

‘You don’t do it all by yourself though, surely?’

She shook her head. ‘There’s Mrs Bazeley comes in, every day till three; every day bar Sunday. She does the washing and the cooking, and I does everything else. A man has a go at the gardens, sometimes. Miss Caroline does a bit . . .’

‘That doesn’t sound too bad.’

She didn’t answer. So I pressed on. Did she miss her parents?–

She pulled a face at that idea. Did she miss a boyfriend?–She pulled a worse face at that.

I picked up my bag. ‘Well, I can’t help you if you won’t say.’

And seeing me start to rise, she said at last, ‘It’s just, this house!’

‘This house? Well, what about it?’

‘Oh, Doctor, it in’t like a proper house at all! It’s too big! You have to walk a mile to get anywhere; and it’s so quiet, it gives you the creeps. It’s all right in the daytimes, when I’m working, and Mrs Bazeley’s here. But at night, I’m all on me own. There in’t a sound! I have horrible dreams . . . And it wouldn’t be so bad, but they make me go up and down that set of old back stairs. There’s so many corners, and you don’t know what’s round ’em. I think I shall die of fright sometimes!’

I said, ‘Die of fright? In this lovely house? You’re lucky to have the chance to live here. Think of it like that.’

‘Lucky!’ she said in disbelief. ‘All me friends say I’m mad to have gone into service. They laugh at me, at home! I never get to see no one. I never get to go out. Me cousins’ve all got factory jobs. And I could’ve had one, too–only, me dad won’t let me! He don’t like it. He says the factories make the girls too wild. He says I must stop here for a year first, and learn housework and nice ways. A year! I shall be dead of horror, I know I shall. Either that, or dead of shame. You ought to see the awful old dress and cap they makes me wear! Oh, Doctor, it in’t fair!’

She had made a sodden ball of her handkerchief, and, as she spoke, threw it to the floor.

I leaned and picked it back up. ‘Dear me, what a tantrum . . . A year will pass quickly, you know. When you’re older, it’ll seem like nothing.’

‘Well, I in’t old now, am I!’

‘How old are you?’

‘I’m fourteen. I might as well be ninety, stuck here!’

I laughed. ‘Don’t be silly, come on. Now, what are we going to do about this? I ought to earn my fee somehow, I suppose. Do you want me to say something to the Ayreses? I’m sure they don’t want you to be unhappy.’

‘Oh, they just want me to do me work.’

‘Well, how about if I were to have a word with your parents?’

‘That’s a laugh! Me mam spends half her time out with other fellers; she don’t care where I am. Me dad’s useless. All he does is shout his head off. It’s just shouting and rowing all day long. Then he turns round and takes me mam back, every time! He’s only put me into service so I won’t turn out like her.’

‘Well, why on earth do you want to go home? You sound better off here.’

‘I don’t want to go home,’ she said. ‘I just– Oh, I’m just fed up!’

Her face had darkened, in pure frustration. She looked less like a child now, and more like some faintly dangerous young animal. But she saw me watching her, and the trace of temper began to fade. She grew sorry for herself again–sighing unhappily, and closing her swollen eyes. We sat for a moment without speaking, and I glanced around me at that drab, almost underground room. The silence was so pure, it felt pressurised: she was right, at least, about that. The air was cool, but curiously weighted; one was aware somehow of the great house above– aware, even, of the creeping chaos of nettle and weed that lay just beyond it. I thought of my mother. She was probably younger than Betty when she first went out to Hundreds Hall.

I got to my feet. ‘Well, my dear, I’m afraid we all have to put up with things we don’t much care for, from time to time. That’s called life; and there’s no cure for it. But how about this? You stay in bed for the rest of the day, and we’ll think of it as a holiday. I won’t tell Miss Ayres that you’ve been shamming; and I’ll send you out some stomach mixture–you can look at the bottle and remember how close you came to losing your appendix. But I will ask Miss Ayres if there isn’t a way they can make things a bit more cheerful for you here. And meanwhile, you can give the place another chance. What do you say?’

She gazed at me for a second with her depthless grey eyes; then nodded. She said, in a pathetic whisper, ‘Thank you, Doctor.’

I left her turning over in the bed, exposing the white nape of her neck and the small sharp blades of her narrow shoulders.

The passage was empty when I stepped into it, but, as before, at the sound of the closing door the dog started barking; there was a flurry of paws and claws and he came bowling out of the kitchen. But he came less frantically this time, and his excitement soon subsided, until he was happy to let me pat him and pull his ears. Caroline appeared in the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on a tea-cloth–working the cloth between her fingers in a brisk, housewifely way. On the wall beyond her, I noticed, there was still that box of call-bells and wires: the imperious little machine designed to summon a staff of servants to the grander realm above.

‘Everything all right?’ she asked, as the dog and I moved towards her.

I said without hesitation, ‘Some slight gastric trouble, that’s all. Nothing serious, but you were quite right to call me in. One can’t be too careful with stomach problems, especially in this weather. I’ll send you over a prescription, and you might as well go easy on her for a day or two . . . But there’s one other thing.’ I had reached her side now, and lowered my voice. ‘I get the idea she’s pretty homesick. That hasn’t struck you?’

She frowned. ‘She’s seemed all right so far. She’ll need time to settle in, I suppose.’

‘And she sleeps down here at night, I gather, all on her own? That must be lonely for her. She mentioned a set of back stairs, said she finds them creepy–’

Her look cleared, grew almost amused. ‘Oh, that’s the trouble, is it? I thought she was above nonsense like that. She seemed a sensible enough thing when she first came out here. But you can never tell with country girls: they’re either hard as nails, wringing chickens’ necks and so on; or going off into fits, like Guster. I expect she’s seen too many unpleasant films. Hundreds is quiet, but there’s nothing queer about it.’

I said, after a second, ‘You’ve lived here all your life, of course. You couldn’t find some way to reassure her?’

She folded her arms. ‘Start reading her bed-time stories, perhaps?’

‘She’s awfully young, Miss Ayres.’

‘Well, we don’t treat her badly, if that’s what you’re thinking! We pay her more than we can afford. She eats the same food as us. Really, in lots of ways she’s better off than we are.’

‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘your brother said something like that.’

I spoke coldly, and she coloured, not very becomingly, the blush rising into her throat and struggling patchily across her dry-looking cheeks. She turned her gaze from mine, as if in an effort to hold on to her patience. When she spoke again, however, her voice had softened a little.

She said, ‘We’d do a great deal to keep Betty happy, if you want to know the truth. The fact is, we can’t afford to lose her. Our daily woman does what she can, but this house needs more than one servant, and we’ve found it almost impossible to get girls in the past few years; we’re just too far from the bus routes and things like that. Our last maid stayed three days. That was back in January. Until Betty arrived, I was doing most of the work myself . . . But I’m glad she’s all right. Truly.’

The blush was fading from her cheek, but her features had sunk slightly and she looked tired. I glanced over her shoulder, to the kitchen table, and saw the heap of vegetables, now washed and peeled. Then I looked at her hands, and noticed for the first time how spoiled they were, the short nails split and the knuckles reddened. That struck me as something of a shame; for they were rather nice hands, I thought.

She must have seen the direction of my gaze. She moved as if self-conscious, turning away from me, making a ball of the teacloth and tossing it neatly into the kitchen so that it landed on the table beside the muddy tray. ‘Let me take you back upstairs,’ she said, with an air of bringing my visit to a close. And we mounted the stone steps in silence–the dog going with us, getting under our feet, sighing and grunting as he climbed.

But at the turn of the stairs, where the service door led back on to the terrace, we met Roderick, just coming in.

‘Mother’s looking for you, Caroline,’ he said. ‘She’s wondering about tea.’ He nodded to me. ‘Hullo, Faraday. Did you reach a diagnosis?’

That ‘Faraday’ grated on me somewhat, given that he was twenty-four and I was nearly forty; but before I could answer, Caroline had moved towards him and looped her arm through his.

‘Dr Faraday thinks we’re brutes!’ she said, with a little flutter of her eyelids. ‘He thinks we’ve been forcing Betty up the chimneys, things like that.’

He smiled faintly. ‘It’s an idea, isn’t it?’

I said, ‘Betty’s fine. A touch of gastritis.’

‘Nothing infectious?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘But we’re to take her breakfast in bed,’ Caroline went on, ‘and generally spoil her, for days and days. Isn’t it lucky I know my way about the kitchen? Speaking of which–’ She looked at me properly now. ‘Don’t run away from us, Doctor. Not unless you have to. Stay and have some tea with us, will you?’

‘Yes, do stay,’ said Roderick.

His tone was as limp as ever; but hers seemed genuine enough. I think she wanted to make up for our disagreement over Betty. And partly because I wanted to make up for it too–but mainly, I must admit, because I realised that in staying to tea I’d be able to see more of the house–I said I would. They moved aside for me to go on ahead of them. I went up the last few steps and emerged in a small, bland hallway, and saw the same baize-curtained arch to which I’d been led by the kindly parlourmaid in 1919. Roderick came slowly up the stairs, his sister with her arm still looped through his, but at the top she moved away from him and casually drew the curtain back.

Read More Show Less

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

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    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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