Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Strange and Wonderful Book: The Little Stranger

A friend recommended The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters a couple of weeks ago. Even though it's in our current fiction collection at the library, she said it was an old-fashioned gothic. She also said it scared her silly, even though it wasn't violent or gory. Well, that was enough for me. I dove right in, and oh my--what a book!

This is one of the few books I've read that left me thinking, this is the book that I want to write. This is the WAY I want to write.

On the surface, The Little Stranger might not sound all that different. It's a typical gothic-type story set in an old, creepy house in the English countryside. The time period is just after World War II, and though electricity and indoor plumbing are advancing throughout the country, Hundreds Hall is isolated enough to be missing out. It's still lit by candles, warmed by fires when the family can afford it. Because even though the Ayres family has been living at Hundreds for generations, like many aristocratic British families, they've fallen on hard times and in some ways live no better than the poorest people in the village. The Ayreses are not seen often anymore, keeping to themselves in their crumbling mansion, so Dr. Farraday is surprised when he is called out to Hundreds to see to the sick maid.

Farraday finds that the young maid is not so much sick as terrified. She swears that there's a frightening presence in the house. Farraday doesn't put much stock in her story, but this is the beginning of his relationship with the Ayres family, including the family matriarch and her son and daughter, who are both in their twenties. Farraday holds onto his scientific skepticism even when stranger and stranger tales come to him from first one, then the other of the family. Their gentle old dog suddenly turns savage and attacks a visitor. Strange noises are heard. Objects move themselves around. One by one, the family members begin to believe they're being persecuted by a strange presence, while Farraday believes there's a kind of hysteria in the house, partly brought on by the stress and isolation of their circumstances.

Of course, even though Farraday is supposedly the uninvolved narrator of the Ayres family's story, it soons become apparent that he, too, is connected in their bizarre situation. First because of his feelings for Caroline Ayres and Hundreds, and also because his mother was once a nursemaid at the Hall.

I don't want to say much more, because this is another of those books that has so many wonderful twists and turns. This is not one of those ghost stories that starts out with things going bump in the night and ends with an explanation of exactly what's been happening--and perhaps with a ghost or a demon popping out of a closet. Neither does it leave you frustrated because there are no answers. When you reach the end of the book, you'll know enough to draw your own conclusions, but you'll also have plenty to think about and discuss with other readers.


  1. Oh man! My list of recommended reading material is getting too long. I wanna read this now, but I have at least 3 other books on my list before it. Thanks for the recommendation, Robin! Can't wait!

  2. Sounds good, Robin. I'll give it a try.