Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is a book I'd been dying to read for ages. I remember seeing my first review of it in the Buffalo News sometime back in 2009. After getting really sick of waiting for it to be free at my library, I finally decided to buy it. Of course it didn't help that I had a 50% coupon from Borders and bought a few other books with it..

This is my kind of book. It is creepy, and it is a ghost story. But it is different from a lot of ghost stories. It's about Dr. Faraday, a family doctor in a small town in England. He gets called one day to Hundreds Hall, an old manor that used to be gorgeous and always hosting lavish parties. Now, with the man of the house dead and the family fortune dwindling, the house is in disrepair, and so is the small family that still lives in it. Dr. Faraday is very welcome by the family, and soon he starts taking regular visits to the Hall. He and the family become very good friends. Then something strange starts to happen. Is the young, war-wounded son going crazy, or is there really an "infection" in the house, as he claims? As time goes by, things start to get even stranger, and the story starts to unravel with a possibly disastrous end.

The plot of The Little Stranger was brilliant and kept me really captivated. We only get little "glimpses" of the house's weird events throughout the book, so you want to keep reading and reading. The title hints that the house is haunted by a little girl's spirit, and that's originally what I thought it was about too. Though some of the characters think that the ghost might be a child who died years ago in the house, we as readers never see the ghost, if there even really is one.

Which brings me to another thing I really loved about the book. Is there really a ghost? We never see it, Dr. Faraday never sees it. But there is a feeling in the house that is unmistakable. Some of the characters wonder if the house itself is what's haunting the family. The house has fallen so much from it's former glory, and the characters struggle daily with its upkeep. They hide strong feelings of resent. Could the energy of the family's pent up anger and frustration be bringing the house to life? It's something to think about, and something you won't be able to solve when the book ends.

I loved the setting of The Little Stranger. It takes place in the English countryside just after World War II. The family is struggling with what I'm sure many former elite families were really dealing with at the time. They have lost the family fortune and are now struggling to find their place in a new society that is nothing like their former lifestyle. I'm very interested in this change in English society and might be reading up more on it in the future.

Sarah Waters is an impeccable writer. I started reading The Little Stranger on Halloween because I was in the mood for a subtle yet bone chilling read, and this definitely did it for me. Her descriptions of Hundreds Hall are enough to make me not want to go there.  Here is one of them:

Pg. 5: "My heart began to sink almost the moment I let myself in to the park. I remembered a long approach to the house through neat rhododendron and laurel, but the park was now so overgrown and untended, my small car had to fight its way down the drive……The house was smaller than in memory, of course-not quite the mansion I'd been recalling-but I'd been expecting that. What horrified me were the signs of decay. Sections of the lovely weathered edgings seemed to have fallen completely away, so that the house's uncertain Georgian outline was even more tentative that before…."

This book was filled with descriptions like that one.

One thing I noticed in the book that interested me but I don't recall seeing in other reviews of it was Dr. Faraday's relationship with Hundreds Hall. To me, he seemed to almost because a little bit obsessed with it. He wanted to live in it with the family, and he didn't want the family to leave it even though it seemed like the house was slowly consuming them. Could it be because he grew up poor and worked hard to become a doctor, and he was so close to being one of the "elite class"?  He struggles with his feelings about his social "status" a lot throughout the book.

I really loved this book, and its ending. It was a shocker, but not a total shocker. More like a "oh no you didn't!" sort of thing, where you knew it was probably going to happen, but were still shocked that it did happen. This is going down as one of my favorite reads of 2010, and you should also go read it if you haven't already! If you read The Little Stranger, what did you think of it? My mom liked it, but thought it was very "disturbing". I understand what she means, but I think I love the book because it's disturbing.

Some quotes:
Pg. 170: "It can do what it wants to me.  For so long as I can keep it, you see, in my room, I can contain the infection.  That's the vital thing now, don't you agree?  To keep the source of the infection away, from my sister and my mother?"

Pg. 277: "'That girl Brenda I met tonight: I don't much like her, you know.'
I said, 'You don't?  I'd never have guessed.  You greeted each other like long-lost sisters.'
'Oh, women always go on like that.'
'Yes, I've often thought it must be exhausting to be a woman.'
'It is, if you do it properly.  Which is why I so seldom do...'"

Title: The Little Stranger
Author: Sarah Waters
Date of Publication: 2009
Number of Pages: 528
Genre: Fiction
Source: Personal Copy


  1. I listened to the audiobook of this and it was very good. I think Faraday was IN LOVE with that house. There was a creepy emotional attachment. Really enjoyed the books. Great review.

  2. Sounds like a great book. I wish Id be home tonight to start reading it....thank you Paris snow storm.

  3. Wonderful review! This has also been on my list for a while, along with The Night Watch (by Waters). My mum said the same thing.