Darin, January 2, 2012 (view all comments by Darin)
A beautifully crafted tale of an old English mansion physically decaying while Britain's class system also begins to fray following World War II. The Little Stranger presents itself as a gothic romance with all of the trappings thereof, yet the author, the more than capable Sarah Waters, has a few tricks up her sleeve.
Dr. Faraday is summoned to Hundreds Hall to tend to the ill housekeeper and is reminded of his previous visit, when he was all of ten years old. Through repeated interactions with the hall's residents, the Ayres family, Faraday manages to insinuate himself into their lives. Mrs. Ayres, the matriarch, and her children, 27 year old Caroline and 23 year old Roderick, live in the dilapidating estate house with their teenaged housemaid Betty. Faraday's mother had been a housekeeper in the hall years before. Mrs. Ayres' first daughter Susan died in the hall's nursery in childhood. From these elements, Waters brews an insightful, penetrating account of class tension, envy, jealousy, lovers' quarrels and, just possibly, a ghost or some other malevolent presence. The family are slowly driven mad by the hall, both mentally through the possible hauntings and physically by the shear enormity of the situation - trying to maintain an ungodly large estate on dwindling income.
The novel brilliantly evokes its time and place, give us characters to care about and places them in harm's way. The suspense is slowly, almost excruciatingly built up. The doctor remains skeptical, the family members slowly succumb to the madness the house induces. And in the end, the ghost is masterfully revealed causing the reader to reassess everything revealed previously. Creepy, lyrical and lonesome, The Little Stranger makes the perfect October's evening read.
Bertha, December 1, 2009 (view all comments by Bertha)
After my initial disappontment I found that in retrospect I was impressed by the evocation of post war austerity and the decline of the country house and its family. Dr. Faraday's dreary rationalism contrasts with the insight of the parlour maid - the only one who really appreciates that there is a malevolent presence at Hundreds Hall. He is heard, she is ignored. Sarah Waters' novel shows how evil is served by human vulnerability, folly and short-sightedness, and how it incarnates our worst fears. I think I now understand what happened at the end.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (2 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
Elliott, June 12, 2009 (view all comments by Elliott)
Sarah Waters delivers a thrilling and well-crafted story of how longing can manifest itself into other worldly phenomena. Set at the end of World War II, she deftly weaves a subtle Gothic tale about class anxities in a crumbling mansion called Hundreds Hall. The characters are haunted by postwar changes as well as ghosts. This is not a book for those wanting cheap gore but for those who want a taughtly written story that delivers chills intelligently. Henry James would be proud.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (8 of 11 readers found this comment helpful)
teelgee, May 24, 2009 (view all comments by teelgee)
This was touted as a ghost story with a haunted house to rival Shirley Jackson's The Haunting. So of course with a setup like that, I was prepared to have my socks knocked off. It really turns out to be a study in human behavior; much of it bumps along about a burgeoning romance and, frankly, not a lot happens. In that way I was disappointed.
But Waters is a tremendous writer and it held my interest - though not as much as her other books, all of which I've read and adored and which were much edgier than this one. I would have enjoyed it more if my darn expectations wouldn't have gotten in the way!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (5 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)
Judith Squires, May 21, 2009 (view all comments by Judith Squires)
Hands down, this is the best novel I've read in the past few years. She has a real gift for creating a time and place and a real empathy for her characters. I won't give away too much of the plot, but let's just say it really stays with you. What a great page turner. I'd love to see a movie version.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (5 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Waters (The Night Watch) reflects on the collapse of the British class system after WWII in a stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor, first visited Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a parlor maid, at age 10 in 1919. When Faraday returns 30 years later to treat a servant, he becomes obsessed with Hundreds's elegant owner, Mrs. Ayres; her 24-year-old son, Roderick, an RAF airman wounded during the war who now oversees the family farm; and her slightly older daughter, Caroline, considered a 'natural spinster' by the locals, for whom the doctor develops a particular fondness. Supernatural trouble kicks in after Caroline's mild-mannered black Lab, Gyp, attacks a visiting child. A damaging fire, a suicide and worse follow. Faraday, one of literature's more unreliable narrators, carries the reader swiftly along to the devastating conclusion." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An eerie ghost story mixed with piercing class commentary, Waters latest is downright haunting."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Waters has extended her range agreeably, working in traditions established by Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan le Fanu and Wilkie Collins, expertly teasing us with suggestive allusions to the classics of supernatural fiction."
by Library Journal,
"This spooky, satisfying read ... effectively detail[s] postwar village life, with its rationing, social strictures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain's massive change to a social state."
by Bookmarks Magazine,
"What elevates this novel from the crowded genre is Waters’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the past as she skillfully weaves tension and dread into each paragraph."
"The #1 book of 2009...Several sleepless nights are guaranteed."—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.
Unabridged CDs • 14 CDs, 18 hours
Abundantly atmospheric and elegantly told, The Little Stranger is Sarah Waters's most thrilling and ambitious novel yet.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.