Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters


Sarah Waters is an amazing author. She has won many, many prizes for her previous novels. Her writing takes a different direction in this new release from McClelland & Stewart.

It is 1949. Britain is still feeling the effects of the war. In rural Warwickshire, Dr.Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall to check on the well being of a servant in the Ayres family home. As a child Dr. Faraday was in the house once. His mother was a nursemaid there when she was younger. He was captivated by the house, the family and their wealth. On this visit, he is dismayed by the decline of both house and family. Mrs Ayres lives there with her son Roddie, who was injured in the war and is struggling to keep the family home afloat. Daughter Caroline was called home to help when Roddie returned from the war and never left. The only live in servant left is a fourteen year old girl.

From that first visit, Dr. Faraday slowly becomes part of the family's life. He is called on often to treat Roddie. Something ails Roddie besides his physical injuries. The young servant girl insists there is something 'wrong' with the house. Caroline begins to wonder this as well, as more misfortune befalls the family.

" This house is playing parlour games with us, I think. We shan't pay it any mind if it starts up again."

She confides in Dr. Faraday and enlists his help.

" I don't know what's going on here, any more than you do. But I'd like to help you figure it out. I'll take my chances with the hungry house, don't worry about that."

This is a tale with a 'gothic' feel to it, a ghost story of sorts. But it doesn't involve overt frights or over the top scenarios. Instead it is all the more delicious for the subtle and insidious manner in which the story unfolds. Everyday items and occurrences suddenly take on a sinister bent.

The interplay between the characters is just as much a part of the story. Dr. Faraday is a bit of an enigma. He is from a lower social class than the Ayres. At times he is made painfully aware of this. At other times, the Ayres family seems to depend on him excessively. Is he there for himself, for personal gain or simply to be in the house again? The other main character Caroline is also a mystery. At times she is playful, other times aloof and practical. What does she really want from the good Doctor? Many of the other characters give us a glimpse into the social life and mores of the time period.

Waters is a master of building a story. The tension grows and we are left wondering if the house is indeed perpetrating these calamities or is it the residents of the house?

Has anyone else read this yet? I'd love to discuss the ending with you.

Read an excerpt of The Little Stranger.



17 comments:

Jennsbookshelf said...

Thanks for the great review! I really really want to read this one!

Nymeth said...

Fabulous review. I haven't read this yet, but I can't wait to.

B.Kienapple said...

Oooo I am so looking forward to reading this. Thanks for the review.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Haven't read this one yet, but I intend to after reading your review!

Dar said...

Glad you liked this one Luanne. I have it up next on the list.

bermudaonion said...

The book sounds so good - I wish I'd read it so we could discuss the ending.

Connie said...

I've decided--I MUST have this!

Thanks for the review.

Connie @ Constance-Reader.blogspot.com

Diane said...

this one sounds good; i've enjoyed a few of her other books.

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds fascinating.

Myckyee said...

I believe I've heard of this author before - I think that her books are difficult to get? I'm not sure it's that (can't quite remember), but it sounds like my kind of read. Nice review.

C F B said...

hello bookworm
discuss the ending - yes! but not so it will spoil it for others. Let me just say when she says 'You!I have a good idea who. You too?

tamos said...

I loved the book but am not quite sure what to make of the ending and here I mean the "You!" part of it! Anybody want to share their ideas?

Luanne said...

Hi CFB and Tamos I don't want to put any spoilers here, but the you is pivotal and was confirmation for me. If you want to email me, we can discuss further...

Anonymous said...

I also missed the significance of the ending. Is Faraday the little stranger?

Cheryl said...

Just finished reading the book last night--read it in one day! I thought the author's prose was absolutely superb! Delicious descriptions. It's well worth a read just for that.

On the other hand, I must say that I felt a bit of a let-down when I finished it. I was expecting the ending to be ambiguous, and it was, so that's not the disappointment. It's just that--maybe I was expecting the ending to grab me more.

I thought that the doctor had something to do with C's death, but probably not everything that went on in the house. What do you think? I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this.

Christine Hankinson said...

Hi Cheryl. I agree with you, there certainly isn't a ticking off of the boxes at the end of the book. Is that a failure? I don't think so because it seems to me Waters is coming in sideways at thoughts and impressions that we barely have a language for - and for which if they are spelt out sound crass and and perhaps reactionary. A problem because such feelings and nuances exist.
What happened when Faraday was unconscious in his car and Caroline threw herself over the balcony of the house? We have no idea - we are on the fringes of delusions? psychopathy? ESP? the idea that minerals can harbour memories? paranoia? the list is endless. It happened. The house is abandoned to its fate with the elements. Who decided?
Or perhaps it is an allegory. Was it perhaps a poignant hymn of mourning to the loss of some of the strengths of a class of people who had been educated and empowered to rule. Wasn't there something dreadfully sad that such nobleness should go to ruin? "If we are not better than other people, then what are we here for?" the mother intones.
What use does modern society have for such notions. Unspeakable ideas. With the gains and progress and equality of the new there are losses. Inevitable and extremely sad.
I think that is why it haunts. Everything was strange to Faraday when he was a visiting child. He was in awe but he also knew it was not just. It wasn't fair as he unpicked some of the fabric of that mighty edifice. And he is right.
Does that resonate with you at all?

Anonymous said...

"Is Faraday the little stranger?"
That is what I believe myself.