"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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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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.
Excerpted from "The Little Stranger"
Copyright © 2010 Sarah Waters.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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What People are Saying About This
“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”
—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
"A classic gothic page-turner."
“Wonderfully evoked…Waters has rendered the old house magnificently in its fading glory, and its in habitants sparkle like chandeliers in the damp, peeling rooms…Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel.”
—The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“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.’ She keeps the lightening flashing in every gloomy chapter, and you can’t help but gasp, ‘It’s alive!’”
—The Washington Post
“Completely absorbing…I wanted to linger in that fictional world, page by page, chapter by chapter.”
“A virtuoso writer…If you want a ghost story that creeps up your spine, The Little Stranger delivers.”
—The Seattle Times
“Waters has managed to write a near-perfect gothic novel while at the same time confidently deploying the form into fresher territory. It’s an astonishing performance, right down to the book’s mournful and devastating final sentence.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Waters creates an atmosphere of quiet dread that’s unnerving and compelling.”
“With its subtly orchestrated suspense and spot-on portrayal of English class divisions, Waters’s literary ghost story delights.”
“A marvelous and truly spooky historical novel.”
—The Boston Globe
“Rich with historic detail and slow, deliberate building toward the revelation of its secrets, [The Little Stranger] delights even as it leaves you unnerved.”
—The Miami Herald
“Like the gloomy English weather, an air of impending doom lingers over every chapter of The Little Stranger…an up-all-night page-turner that provides a cogent dose of social commentary.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“In The Little Stranger, Hundreds Hall serves as a perfect symbol of the postwar erosion of Britain’s class hierarchies, but it also, increasingly, transforms into a scheming, deadly character…Waters, a master at stoking anticipation, withholds the truth about her ghost until the final pages. By then we already strongly suspect its identity, but the confirmation is subtle, surprising, and deeply, deeply chilling.”
“A stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Few authors do dread as well as Waters. Her latest novel is a ghost story with elements of both ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and Brideshead Revisited. This spooky satisfying read has the added pleasure of effectively detailing postwar village life, with its rationing, social structures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain’s massive change to a social state.”
Reading Group Guide
A chilling and vividly rendered ghost story set in postwar Britain, by the bestselling and award-winning author of The Night Watch and Fingersmith.
Sarah Waters’s trilogy of Victorian novels Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith earned her legions of fans around the world, a number of awards, and a reputation as one of today’s most gifted historical novelists. With her most recent book,The Night Watch, Waters turned to the 1940s and delivered a tender and intricate novel of relationships that brought her the greatest success she has achieved so far. With The Little Stranger, Waters revisits the fertile setting of Britain in the 1940s—and gives us a sinister tale of a haunted house, brimming with the rich atmosphere and psychological complexity that have become hallmarks of Waters’s work.
The Little Stranger follows the strange adventures of Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand 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. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.
Abundantly atmospheric and elegantly told, The Little Stranger is Sarah Waters’s most thrilling and ambitious novel yet.
ABOUT SARAH WATERS
Sarah Waters, 35, was born in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, United Kingdom. She studied English Literature at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, at the universities of Kent and Lancaster. As a student she lived for two years in Whitstable, the sea-side town—famous for its oysters—in which her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, is partly set. In 1988 she moved to London; her first full-time job was in an independent bookshop; later she worked in public libraries. In 1991 she decided to return to postgraduate study, and she spent the next three years writing a Ph.D. thesis, on lesbian and gay historical fiction. She developed a daily writing routine, and a passion for language and composition. She had articles on gender, sexuality, and history published in various scholarly journals, including Feminist Review, Journal of the History of Sexuality, and Science as Culture.
But while working on her thesis, and becoming increasingly interested in London life of the nineteenth century, Waters began to conceive the historical novel that would become Tipping the Velvet. With the thesis complete, and supporting herself with bits of teaching and part-time library work, she started to write. The novel was finished in just over a year, and was published in the U.K. by Virago (1998) and in the U.S. by Riverhead (1999). The BBC is in the process of adapting the book into a major series with director Andrew Davies, who also directed the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.
By 1991, Waters had already begun her second novel, Affinity. This was completed with help from a London Arts Board New London Writers Award, and appeared in the U.K. in 1999 and in the U.S. in 2000. Waters taught for a time for the Open University, a national educational institution offering undergraduate schooling to mature students from a range of social backgrounds. She has also tutored on creative writing programs. She published articles on literature as recently as 1999, but now devotes herself full time to the writing of fiction. Her third novel, Fingersmith, was completed in 2001, and she is currently at work on her next book. She still lives in London, a city she finds endlessly inspiring; but she dreams, too, of returning to a life by the sea.
Sarah Waters made the Granta list for 2003.
A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH WATERS
Q. You established your literary reputation with a trilogy of novels set in Victorian England – Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith. Your most recent novel, The Night Watch, was set in London during World War II. You’ve set THE LITTLE STRANGER in the British countryside just after the war. Why did you choose that time and place?
Well, each of my Victorian novels sort of grew out of the one before it: every time I finished one, I was still so interested in the nineteenth century I wanted to write another, exploring a slightly different aspect of Victorian life. And something similar has happened to me with the 1940s. Having written The Night Watch, I found that there were lots of features to the period that still really fascinated me – in particular, the class crisis that took place after the war. It’s a period that I think lots of people in the UK are interested in right now, because although it’s still relatively close, it will soon disappear from living memory. Lots of us are belatedly waking up to the fact that our parents and grandparents lived through this absolutely extraordinary time – a time that dramatically shaped our own society and culture.
Q. Why did you decide to write a haunted house story?
I’ve always loved spooky stories. As a child, I never read any of the children’s classics; instead I read ghost stories, and watched horror films. I’m still a fan of the gothic; Affinity and Fingersmith are both very gothic, but even my other novels, I think, have their gothic moments. So it’s been a lingering ambition of mine to embrace the genre and write a really smart ghost story – by which I mean a story that’s both unnerving and convincing; a story of the uncanny which rings psychologically true, and is a good piece of literature in its own right. I hope The Little Stranger is that story – even though, technically, it may not really be a ghost story at all. There’s definitely some kind of haunting going on; the interesting question for me was: what’s at the root of it?
Q. Who are the members of the Ayres family, and what situation do they find themselves in two years after the end of the war?
The Ayreses are a mother, a daughter, and a son. They’re an old gentry family, living in a rather splendid Georgian country house called Hundreds Hall, but like lots of gentry and aristocratic families in Britain just after the war, they are struggling to maintain their old way of life. Their income has dried up, and the house is falling to bits around them. Mrs. Ayres is living on her memories of grander days; her plain daughter Caroline is lonely and frustrated, but doing what she can to keep things going; Roderick, the heir, has returned from war with physical and psychological scars. Crucially, the family are unable to find servants; working-class people now have more independence, and are finding better jobs elsewhere. When the novel opens, the Ayreses are making do with a single housemaid, Betty – a fourteen year-old with an unhappy home life, who’s effectively as trapped in the house as her employers. So there are lots of tensions and frustrations, all bubbling away under the surface…
Q. What is Dr. Faraday’s connection to Hundreds Hall?
Dr. Faraday begins to get to know the family one summer, when he is called out to the Hall to treat Betty for a minor ailment. But his relationship with Hundreds predates that visit: his mother was once a servant there, and he has vivid memories of seeing the Hall as a ten year-old boy, when the house and its gardens were still glorious. So he is appalled at the place’s decline, and keen to do what he can to ease the Ayreses’ various burdens. His friendship with the family is complicated, however, by his lingering class resentments, by his growing attraction to Caroline – and more importantly, by the oddness and drama of events that begin to occur in the house as the hot summer gives way to a dark and gloomy winter.
Q. What happens at Hundreds Hall that makes some of the characters believe it is haunted? And without giving away too many surprises, what effect does it have on the family?
The family is left in a demoralized state after a shocking incident at a party. Roderick seems particularly badly affected, becoming anxious and secretive, and while Dr. Faraday believes his behaviour to have its roots in nervous exhaustion, there are hints that there may be something odder at work – possibly something supernatural. Betty, the maid, believes the house to be haunted; Caroline is uneasy; Mrs. Ayres is troubled with memories of her first child, Susan – a daughter who died many years before. Soon Roderick’s behaviour tips over into something more alarming, and, with the appearance of strange sounds and manifestation, the house begins almost to take on a life of its own. At last even Dr. Faraday’s scientific assurances are challenged, as he begins to wonder whether Hundreds might actually be haunted – and if so, by what?
Q. Britain was undergoing great social and political change in the postwar period, which you connect to the difficulties of the Ayres family. What was happening in British society at this time?
It was a time of real transformation. The Second World War was a national trauma, but it was also in many ways fantastically liberating. In The Night Watch I looked at the freedoms gained in wartime by women and by gay people; The Little Stranger is more about class. During the war, the British class structure got a bit of a shake up. The return to peacetime saw ordinary people wanting a better deal for themselves and their families: decent housing, education, and health care. Men and women who might once have gone into domestic service were now able to find better-paid jobs, and more independence, in new post-war industries. They were supported by the Labour party, which came to power on the back of an astonishing landslide victory in 1945. For the upper classes, an old way of life had disappeared: the world seemed to be sliding into chaos. Novels and diaries of the period are full of angst about the situation – an angst which unfortunately often manifests itself as snobbery, as a fear and loathing of working-class people. In The Little Stranger, I suppose I’ve pushed this angst to its logical conclusion: I have a gentry family in violent decline, being terrorized by forces they don’t understand and can’t control.
Q. Medicine is changing as well, as Britain moves to establish a National Health Service for the first time. How does this affect Dr. Faraday?
Yes, this was one of the great successes of the post-war Labour government: the granting of free medical treatment, by right, to every British citizen. Until then, doctors had had to run their practices as businesses, in competition with local rivals. Dr. Faraday is struggling to make a profit from his, but at the same time he’s suspicious of the forthcoming Health Service – as most GPs of the period were – because he fears he’ll lose control of his work and income. So he has ambivalent feelings about all the social changes, just as the Ayreses have.
Q. What role does social class play in this novel, particularly in the relationship between Dr. Faraday and Caroline Ayres?
Dr. Faraday is a working-class boy who has been put through medical school on grants and scholarships. He has worked hard to get where he is, and is still ambitious, but he has a residual sense of inferiority and class resentment. So his relationship with Caroline is a complicated one. She’s a rather plain young woman, disadvantaged by the gender mores of the time, and well on her way to becoming a spinster; he is drawn to her liveliness and wit, but also attracted to her because of what she represents - class, and status. He sees her as a way into a kind of life he has always admired; she feels stifled by that life, and perhaps sees him as a way out of it… But they’re also genuinely fond of each other, and I found their relationship one of the most interesting aspects of the novel to write. I hadn’t planned it; it developed by itself. That’s always a nice experience for an author.
Q. We never learn Dr. Faraday’s first name. Why?
As it happens, that wasn’t something I intended at the start. But everyone in the novel calls him by his title, and I got so used to calling him ‘Doctor’, too, that I soon realized I didn’t actually know what his first name was. Then I saw that that made sense: he’s a man who to a certain extent has problems with intimacy; he’s someone who has struggled so hard to attain a professional middle-class identity, he can’t really shake that identity off. He’s the novel’s narrator; he observes and reports; but he never quite sees into his own depths – and, except for odd glimpses, neither do we. By contrast, Betty, the put-upon Hundreds servant, has no surname. She’s someone who exists for the other characters purely in terms of her social function, too.
Q. The Little Stranger is your first book with a male narrator. Why?
Well, I needed a narrator who was mobile, in both a geographical and a social sense – someone who could become a frequent visitor to Hundreds Hall, who could discover the family’s secrets and vulnerabilities; someone who could report on their sometimes terrifying experiences with a sense of caution and distance. … A doctor seemed perfect. And though there were plenty of female doctors in the period, they were still unusual enough to cause tension, especially in rural communities, and I wanted the main conflicts here to be about class rather than gender. I was slightly nervous of the male voice at first; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it ring true. But I got to really enjoy ‘inhabiting’ Dr. Faraday. I found myself responding differently to the other characters through him. It made writing about desire, for example, very different. In my earlier book, my female narrators necessarily experience their desire for other women in rather furtive, troubled ways. Dr. Faraday’s desire for Caroline, by contrast, has a weight of entitlement and male privilege behind it - and that was quite liberating.
Q. Also, this is your first novel that does not include major lesbian and gay characters. Was there any particular significance to that decision?
No – it just turned out that way. It has always felt right and important to me to write about gay characters, and I’ve no doubt at all that I’ll return to lesbian themes in future books. But this story just came along and took hold of my imagination, and it was very clearly not a story with a lesbian element. I wouldn’t call it a heterosexual story, either, though it does have a romance in it. I actually think it’s quite a ‘queer’ novel, in all sorts of ways. Caroline is not your average feminine woman; Roderick, in a sense, is more feminised than she is; and Dr. Faraday’s desires are pretty complicated…
Q. Do you believe in ghosts?
Well, I’m just not sure. I find it hard to believe that spirits are floating around in some sort of afterlife, but I think it’s possible that people can leave an impression in the world, some charge or energy, that lingers on after they die… I was recently invited to spend the night in a country house with some paranormal researchers, and I realised almost as soon as we turned off the lights that I really, really didn’t want anything supernatural to happen – I was quite freaked out by the possibility. I like the idea of it, in other words – but not the reality. If there is some sort of membrane between our world and the world of spirits, I don’t want to pierce it, for fear of what might come tumbling through…
Q. Dr. Faraday mentions the superstitions of many of the poor people he treats – beliefs that seem outlandish to us today. How does this environment affect his reaction to what is happening at Hundreds Hall?
He’s a man of science, but he has his roots in a more traditional rural way of life, so his frustration with his superstitious patients is perhaps all the stronger because he recognizes a sort of affinity with them; it’s partly a frustration with himself. I think at heart he feels that, as a professional man, he’s a bit of an impostor. Things at the Hall get weirder and weirder, but he insists on maintaining a rational explanation: he can’t put the science aside, because he’s afraid that, without it, he’ll be exposed as a fraud.
Q. Does the name Hundreds Hall have a special significance?
I spent quite a while trying to find a name for the Hall. Literature is full of gothic houses with names that seem perfect – like Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Satis House in Dickens’s Great Expectations – and I wanted it to feel absolutely right. Then I thought of ‘Hundreds’. A ‘hundred’ is a traditional English term for a subdivision of a county, and even though I never make this explicit in the book, I always imagined that the Hall was located on the border of two of them. So the name made geographical sense – but, more than that, it had the right kind of resonance, with its suggestions of size, of age, and of obsolescence. That seemed perfect for a grand, melancholy house that’s teetering on the edge of ruin.
Q. Is the Hall based on a real house, or is it purely a product of your imagination?
It isn’t based on any actual house, but while I was writing the book I spent a lot of time looking at eighteenth-century country houses, and I suppose Hundreds Hall is a sort of composite of all of them. I borrowed bits I liked – such as the octagonal drawing-room, which is the sort of room you might easily find in a house of that age. But I also took some liberties! – giving the Hall an unusual, double-storey staircase, for example, simply because I liked the image. Ultimately, Hundreds is like all the houses of gothic fiction: a psychological structure as well as a bricks-and-mortar one; a place of secrets, half-memories, and lurking threats.
Q. How did you research this novel?
Well, I had already done a lot of research into 1940s’ life for The Night Watch, so I had a very good grounding in the period – in its artefacts, its manners, its idiom. The biggest challenge was the setting. All my books before this one were set in London, which I know very well. The Little Stranger has a rural setting, and though I grew up in the country, I soon realized that I had a very dim grasp on how the countryside looks and feels at different times of the year! So I looked at histories of rural life, and I read Warwickshire newspapers of the time, to see what the preoccupations of the area would have been. I also listened to sound recordings of Warwickshire voices: the British Library in London, luckily, has a great collection of oral histories on tape. I did some research into country houses, too – finding ones that resembled my fictional Hundreds Hall and, if I could, visiting them. I also, of course, read books about the paranormal – about ghosts and poltergeists. That was fun, if a little spooky. After a while I began to fear that I was thinking so hard about supernatural manifestations, I would actually conjure one up…
Q. Are the events in the story based in any way on actual events?
Not really. I tried to make the odd events at the Hall resemble the sort of paranormal experiences I found recounted in reports and studies of hauntings – though the Hundreds ‘ghost’ is probably a bit more malevolent than you would find in real life, since most recorded ghosts and poltergeists have seemed simply to want to make a bit of a racket, throw the furniture around, things like that. People in haunted houses have rarely ended up badly hurt – though there was of course John Bell, who was persecuted and supposedly murdered by the ‘Bell Witch’ in Tennessee, in the early nineteenth century… Actually the Bell Witch case was a fascinating one for me, since the haunting seems so obviously to have been a sort of acting-out of submerged family aggressions. That’s the aspect of the supernatural that compels me most. What’s going on for the people involved? Why are the weird events centered on them? What repressions and conflicts are being brought to the surface? Questions like that are at the heart of The Little Stranger.
Q. Were there any particular works of literature that influenced you as you wrote this book?
I read lots of post-war British novels as part of my research, and I was struck by how many of them are preoccupied with the social changes of the day, even if on the surface they are quite other sorts of books - crime novels or romances or stories of family life. Two writers who had a particular influence on me are Angela Thirkell and Josephine Tey. Thirkell wrote a long series of novels based in the fictional county of Barsetshire: they’re effectively mild social comedies, a sort of super-light Jane Austen, insanely readable and engaging – but also ferociously snobbish. With The Little Stranger, I wanted to take on that cosy, bigoted British landscape and, by injecting something dark and dangerous into it, sort of watch it self-destruct… Jospehine Tey was a crime writer – again, amazingly readable and a great story-teller, but thoroughly conservative. My starting-point for The Little Stranger was her 1948 novel The Franchise Affair, in which a working-class teenage girl accuses a reclusive middle-class mother and daughter of having abducted and imprisoned her. It’s a brilliant novel in a way, but it’s marred by Tey’s inability to shake off the prejudices of her day. I tried to address some of the issues it raises by telling a different sort of story in a similar setting – and so The Little Stranger itself is a kind of haunted house, with faint echoes of Tey’s book in the text, alongside the echoes of more obviously gothic writers like Dickens, du Maurier, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Q. What kind of experience do you hope readers have in reading this novel?
I hope they’ll be compelled by the story and absorbed by the world of the book, stimulated by the ideas - and perhaps a bit spooked, too.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
If you are looking for ghosts in the night, this is not that kind of ghost story. This ghost story is one that plays with your mind. The story takes place after World War II. An old English family falling on bad times, a spinster sister, a mother still living in the past and a brother damaged from the war. You add a bachelor village doctor and the stage is set. Each family member has a ghost, are they real or only in their minds? Very well written. If you like psychological ghost stories, you will enjoy this book. Sarah Waters is an excellent writer.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
This seems to be a kind of follow-up to Brideshead revisited, set during the Attlee era — a young man of plebeian origin insinuates himself into a decaying family of landowners and watches them destroying themselves. We're left to work out for ourselves whether the demise of the Ayres family is accident, suicide, the malign influence of a poltergeist, or a case of the Roger Ackroyds. As you would expect from Waters, the period detail is spot-on, but I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was more like a pastiche than a historical novel: she doesn't seem to get anything extra out of writing it in 2009 rather than 1949. I'm not really sure what she was trying to achieve: overall, I found it a bit of a disappointment.
As is usually true for me with Waters's work, I very much enjoyed the writing here. In particular, I thought Waters created an engaging voice for Dr. Faraday which pulled me easily through the story and nicely conjured up late 1940s England. I was intrigued by the strange goings on at Hundreds Hall and eager throughout to find out what happened next. Spoilers ahead. In the end though, I was a bit let down by the irresolution of those strange goings on. It's never made clear whether the Ayreses were all simply going mad or if something supernatural vexed them and their house. I'd have been okay with that sort of irresolution if I thought the irresolution itself accomplished anything. As it is, the story just sort of seems to end when there are no more Ayreses to destroy. I wasn't expecting a Stephen King-y revelation of Just What the Hell the Spooky Bits Where About, but this complete lack of explanation leaves me feeling a bit like Waters wrote an excellent first fourth-fifths of a book.
I completely agree with the reviews below that say this would be a good book for another author, but slightly misses the high mark set by Sarah Waters' other novels. The mystery at the center of the novel did keep me guessing till nearly the end, but it was still not quite as good as I wanted it to be.
A young doctor befriends the aristocratic family in the town where his practice is located. Eventually he and the daughter fall in love, but all the while the manor house is being "haunted" by something strange...and no one can seem to fully understand what is happening. Tragedy eventually engulfs everyone...but why? An atmospheric read which leaves you wondering.
The Little Stranger takes place in post WWII England. Dr. Faraday, the narrator, is called the Hundreds Hall, a once wealthy estate, to treat a maid, Betty. Faraday remembers it from his youth, when his mother was a servant there. The Ayreses still live there, albeit in much reduced circumstances: Mrs Ayres, spinster daughter Caroline and, Roderick, the wounded in battle older brother, who is trying to keep the estate afloat. Faraday becomes a confidant to the family, ingratiating himself though he is not of their class. Strange things begin to happen, but Faraday sees it as mental illness in the family,not a haunting of the house, yet becomes obsessed with the decrepit house himself.my review: I had high expectations of this book being a Gothic, psychological thriller. However, the book just did not give me that. I understand where the author was going, but it took way too many pages to even start to get there. The atmosphere was appropriate as were the characters. The novel was well-written if it had been a story about the downfall of the landed gentry in a changing society. But it just did not strike my thriller bone (that sounds dirty). Though Dr. Faraday was creepy enough, something was missing. The problem may have been the choice of narrator. I think it might have been better from Caroline's point of view. When it was over, I just felt disappointed. There was potential but in it's 480 pages, it just never made it. Good writing, bad plot.A better read in the genre would be The House Next Door by Anne River Siddon, a five star book in my opinion.my rating 3/5
In a small English village in Warwickshire sits a Georgian home called Hundreds Hall. It was once an elegant mansion with beautiful grounds and many servants to keep its rooms flawless. But the war has taken its toll on the people and economy of England, and Hundreds Hall is now in decline with crumbling masonry, weed-choked gardens and leaky ceilings. Dr. Faraday, the local physician, had visited the mansion as a child and his mother was once a maid there, so he is shocked at what the once beautiful home has become when he is called out to see an ailing servant girl. He quickly befriends those still living at Hundreds Hall: the elderly Mrs. Ayres and her two adult children¿ Roderick (who is crippled from the war), and Caroline. Within a short period of time, strange things begin to happen ¿ scorch marks appear on the walls, the telephone rings in the middle of the night and then goes dead, and the family dog acts out of character. Are these events caused by a ghost, as Betty the young servant girl believes, or something far more sinister?Sarah Waters¿ newest novel is Gothic in style. Set in post-war England sometime in the the late 1940s and narrated by a questionable narrator (Dr. Faraday), the story unfolds slowly at first but then picks up about mid-way through the book. Waters takes her time to carefully develop her characters and introduces the theme of class differences early on when it becomes evident that Dr. Faraday has never relinquished his dismay at being the son of a maid, and the Ayreses (despite their current bleak economic situation) will always consider themselves a family of means.As in all good Gothic novels, Hundreds Hall becomes a character in the book. The descriptions of the house¿s decline, its dark and gloomy halls and closed off rooms with peeling or mildewed wallpaper, seems to be a metaphor for the economic decline of the times. Beneath its crumbling exterior, the house also holds family secrets and tragedy.Waters gives clues as to the malevolent presence in the house, but it is not until the end that I was certain of its origins¿and then I was thrilled by Waters¿ deft manipulation of her story. As with all of her work, Waters¿ writing is sophisticated and satisfying, and filled with descriptions which capture the historical time of the story.My only complaint, and it is a small one, was the slow pace at the beginning of the book. Waters takes her time to set the stage and introduce her characters, and at times I grew impatient for some action. Once events start to happen, however, the pace picks up. I found myself reading straight through the last 150 pages with barely a break.Readers who have liked Waters¿ previous books and who like a good Gothic mystery, will most likely find The Little Stranger an enjoyable, albeit disturbing, read.
Rather disappointing. It just seemed to lack something for me -- it took forever for me to finish it.