October 24, 2009

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters


I realise I am probably one of the few bloggers yet to read The Little Stranger. I'm not even sure why I have waited so long to pick it up - I am a huge fan of Sarah Waters and was really excited to know that she would have a new book coming out this year - and yet when it came out I didn't rush out to buy it or place it on hold at my library... I did buy it as an audio book to listen to on our recent trip but I realised after I was only part way through the first chapter that I would need to actually read this one - something about the style of the book and the writing meant I needed to "see" it.

The book is marketed as a "chilling ghost story" which could explain why I had stayed away from it for so long - ghost stories aren't usually my forte. But having recently finished Her Fearful Symmetry (which I WILL post about soon!) I must have been in the mood to continue along the haunted way.

The Little Stranger centres around the Ayres family - English, upper-class, estate owners - in the time following WW2. The patriarch of the family has died leaving his wife and two adult children, Caroline and Roderick, to run the family house and estate - Hundreds Hall (my favourite character in the book by far). Into the life of the family comes a local GP, Dr Faraday, a local boy "made good" through the sacrifices of his working class parents and who has a mental and emotional connection to Hundreds Hall through the memories of a visit he made there when he was a child.

At the beginning of the story things are not going well for the Ayres family. Money is tight and only getting tighter, Roderick has returned from WW2 with psychological and physical injuries and Hundreds Hall itself is barely a shadow of the magnificent mansion it once was. Things only get worse from here. A traumatic incident at a party held by the family seems to start a spiral of events leading to the dismantling of the family in every sense of the word - and Hundreds Hall itself seems to be out for some sort of revenge.

I didn't find myself so much being scared by this book but depressed! The pains and experiences of the Ayres family are brought to life in vivid detail - the characterisation by Waters was brilliant I thought - each character stood out clearly and I felt like I knew them and could in some ways predict how they would respond and act. To me this brought a sense of genuineness to the not only the characters but the story itself. The decline of Hundreds Hall was sad and pathetic - I wanted to be able to donate some money to the restoration cause in the hope that it could be saved. Unfortunately I think there was much than just physical decay occurring within the estate.

I have read with much interest the reviews by other bloggers on this one in past months and they all intrigued me - there seemed to be a lot of different opinions and reactions to the ending of the book. Although I don't think I can say I totally enjoyed this book - as I have said before I found it too depressing to call it an enjoyable experience - I do think it is a clever, extremely well written book. As to whether it is a ghost story - well, I think that all depends on what your definition of a ghost may be...

13 comments:

Molly said...

I am wanting to read Fingersmith before I read this one. I have only recently been introduced to this author and am very much looking forward to experiencing her writing style.

Paperback Reader said...

This is my least favourite Waters book but I agree that it is cleverly written (realised when I reread the ending), very well researched historically and I liked the characterisation of Hundreds Hall and the nods to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My expectations were not met but I think they were too high; I certainly have more appreciation for this novel with hindsight but I maintain that it is her least enjoyable book so far (perhaps because of the depressing subject matter you mention).

Steph said...

Forget The Little Stranger - I haven't read ANY Waters at all! She's been hot stuff in the book blogging world lately, though, so you can bet that I'll be rectifying that soon! I'm not sure I'll start with this one, but it seems like with this author, there's really no bad book to pick!

eveningreader said...

I agree: I thought it was very well done, but quite sad. I thought Waters did a wonderful job making the house sort of the personification of the family's pain through the haunting. I also thought it was an interesting look at England after WWII. I admit, though: Fingersmith is still my favorite. I have The Night Watch to read next. :)

Karen said...

Hi Molly - Fingersmith is a very different book to this one in many ways but the ways Waters builds tension/suspense is very similar in both I think. I actually didn't love Fingersmith as much as some other people. I hope you enjoy it!

Hi Claire - It seemed to take a very different path for her didn't it? I would probably call it my least favourite as well I think.

Hi Steph - I think you are right - it doesn't matter where you start as long as you read Waters soon!

Hi eveningreader - I hope you enjoy The Night Watch - it is definitely my favourite one of hers.

Kim said...

You know, I keep seeing this book reviewed and am still in a dilemma as to whether I want to read it or not. I like the haunted house thing and the post WWII era thing, but, I am not drawn to the depressing/sadness aspect of the story, it keeps putting me off - having said that, I just realised that one of my favourite books of all time is Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy which is probably about as depressing as stories get!
Thanks for the review, Karen, I'll keep on pondering.

Karen said...

Hi Kim - I felt pretty much the same way about reading this one. I'm glad I have read it now if that helps??

farmlanebooks said...

I agree with you - I didn't find it scary at all. I didn't find it depressing either - it didn't really bring any emotion to me (a sign that it wasn't that good!)

It was OK, but after Fingersmith it was a bit of a let down.

Karen said...

Hi Jackie - feeling no emotion for a book is worse than hating it I think! I just finished one a bit like that... Will post about it soon.

Nadia said...

I have yet to read anything by Sarah Waters - for shame!! I have a few of her novels sitting on my shelves and I know that I want to read The Little Stranger, I just have yet to actually pick up the book and begin. Thanks for your review though, its gotten me to pick up the books off the shelves and move them to the pile that is near my desk, which means that they will be read sooner rather then later. Cheers! Great review!!

Samantha said...

I have recently finished The Night Watch and enjoyed that - also very clever. But with most of Waters books I find there is a distance between her and her readers which sometimes works and at other times does not. I will eventually get To The Little Stranger as the timefame of the book interests me but the mixed reviews are a little offputting :-)

Karen said...

Hi Nadia - I'm glad I got you to move those books a little closer to being read! I hope you like them when you get there.

Hi Samantha - The Night Watch is definitely my favourite - will look forward to hearing what you think about The Little Stranger when you read it.

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