The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I have very, very mixed feelings about this book, “The Little Stranger.” On the one hand I deeply appreciate the excellent writing and planning which went into it and I read through it as fast as I could. On the other hand there never seemed to be an ultimate climatic moment in the book and when I finished it I had the feeling that something was missing. After much thought I am still unable to identify this something. This will be billed as a historica suspense/ghost story and while that is an accurate description of the book it is really a novel of people and places stuck in-betweens. It is shortly after WW2 and in England the minor aristocracy are going through changes. This is particularly true for the Ayres family who live in the once stately Hundreds hall. But now most of the money is gone, the land is being sold off piece by piece and the hall itself is turning into a crumbling ruin. Living there are Mrs. Ayres and her two grown up children, who aren’t adapting very well to the new, more democratic world. With one maid left who still wears the uniform the Ayres are firmly stuck in place between the pre-war world and the post war one. Into their lives comes our narrator, Dr, Faraday, a bachelor in between youth and middle age and between his roots as a poor boy whose mother was a nursemaid at Hundreds and the country doctor he is now. Quite by accident he is called to see to a medical situation at the hall and slowly begins to become friends with the family. Mrs. Ayres, a woman physically barely on the brink of being elderly but mentally lost in the past, Roderick, her son and lord of the manor who was badly injured in the war and Caroline, the unfeminine, plain speaking daughter. Faraday seems to be caught between resentment at the Ayres hanging on to a dead life style which makes him beneath them and jealously at their (crumbling, but once grand) social position. Either way he can’t tear himself away from the Hall. And then strange things begin to happen. The rest goes the way of a typical ghost story-strange happenings, both annoying and violent, a sense of dread, of the House being alive, as well as a more intellectual scoffing at al matters supernatural. Through it all Faraday is our window into the world at Hundreds Hall. Like I said earlier the writing in this book is very good. I pretty much raced through it. But for some reason the ending left me very dissatisfied-maybe because this isn’t a grand, story kind of novel but more about an strange episode in an otherwise ordinary man’s life. I’ve only read two other Sarah Waters’ novels but “The Little Stranger” is very similar in atmosphere to affinity both are gloomy books that always seem to be in decaying gray environment.

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