Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review:The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Title: The Little Stranger
Author: Sarah Waters
Genre: Paranormal/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Virago Press, 2009

Set in post WWII England The Little Stranger is as much an historical commentary as it is ghost story. As the country struggles to rebuild a new future there is one thing that will never be the same again and that is the rigid class structure that had held fast for centuries.

We first meet the narrator, Dr Faraday, as a 10 year old boy in 1919 at an Empire Day celebration held at Hundreds Hall, ancestral home of the local gentry and where his mother had once been employed as a nurserymaid.
Sneaking into the forbidden part of the house he is in awe of it's beautiful interior and the suggestion of a life so different to his own and breaks off a piece of the plasterwork to take home.

Thirty years later and Dr Faraday is a lonely, unmarried, middleaged man practising medicine in this same village. When he responds to a call to tend a patient at the Hall he is horrified by the 'signs of decay' ...........gardens choked with weeds, dirty windows, cracked stonework and crumbling masonry.
His patient is the young servant girl, Betty, who is feigning illness because she is frightened .
'There's something bad in this house' she assures Dr Faraday.
"Nonsense' replies the educated and rational man of science and dismisses her fears as ignorance.

The Dr is then invited to tea with the family of the house.

The widowed Mrs Ayres , haunted by the death of her eldest child, and desperately clinging to her out of date social values.
Her daughter, Caroline.............the big plain girl in shapeless dress and sandals who found freedom during the war years serving with the Wrens but forced to return to the Hall to help care for her brother.
The son, Roderick, a war veteran still suffering from his wounds and struggling to fulfil his duty to keep the estate running.

All of the characters tied to this old house with bonds of resentment, frustration, envy and longing.
Dr Faraday offers to treat Roderick's leg wound and thus becomes a frequent visitor to the Hall , a trusted family friend and eventually develops a romantic relationship with Caroline.

The first half of the story moves at a very slow pace. Those who prefer ghost stories to be in your face, sitting on the edge of your chair , spinechilling horror may have problems with this. Like my husband who was heard mumbling 'Too slow, boring, nothing's happening"
Ms Waters writes with restraint and quiet understatement..........wonderful descriptive prose and very detailed accounts of people and places but very ordinary . I thought it was a very clever way to build the tension and suspense. It invites the reader to become involved, to look beneath the surface , to think about what is happening and form their own opinions. Very often what is not being said is more chilling than what is and one is always aware, because Betty has told us, there is something bad in this house. So the excitement and anticipation grow until at last it all starts happening and doesn't stop until the stunning conclusion.

This was one of those books that won't let go and I found myself still caught up in it days later and returning to key scenes because the ending leaves much to the reader's own interpretation.
This is not the most scary of ghost stories.........in fact I'm reluctant to call it that because it is so much more...........but it's haunting and chilling and oh, so beautifully and skillfully written.

Highly recommended.

Rating 5 Stars *****


  1. Hmmm... The way you described it reminded me of The Shining by Stephen King. But, then again, I just finished The Shining a couple weeks ago, so it's easy to compare it with anything and everything. ;)

    But I do enjoy becoming more involved with the characters; so that when spooky things do start to happen, I can better sympathize with the characters, which help with the chill factor.
    Good review. :)

  2. Oh no......it is not like The Shining at all and that is one of my all time favourites of Stephen King
    Much quieter and subtle.Very British.
    I hope you read and enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. Ahhh...very cool. This one is a book that I would like to read. I am putting it on my to-read list. I am glad to hear it is not at all like The Shining otherwise I would have take back my statement of a book that I would like to read. The Shining scared me greatly many moons ago.

  4. I had to click on your The Little Stranger review after seeing your review of my book, because I completely idolize Sarah Waters writing. Isn't she amazing?

    I loved this book every bit as much as you did and am actually considering re-reading it (which I rarely do). It really got under my skin! Great review!