The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Dr. Faraday’s mother used to work at Hundreds Hall and he has always been fascinated with it, whenever she would take him there. His fascination persists, even as he has broken through his working-class ancestry to become a doctor. When he is called out to Hundreds when the maid is sick, it all comes screaming back to him. Eventually he manages to make himself all but indispensable at the house, and strange things begin to happen. First Roderick, the young World War II veteran begins acting strangely and becomes convinced there is a malevolent force in the house, then there is a tragedy involving the dog belonging to Caroline, Roderick’s sister. Things continue to get stranger and stranger, and skeptical, scientific Dr. Faraday finds himself in the middle of it without really knowing what to think.
Let me just start by saying this book was really, really great. There were a few parts that were a bit slow, particularly towards the beginning, but Waters succeeded in wrapping me completely in her story. I actually listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Simon Vance, and it was just fantastic. Here are a few of the things I really appreciated about “The Little Stranger:”
- The atmosphere: this was a totally spooky Gothic novel. Waters managed to create an atmosphere that creeped me out without going overboard or having to tell me that things should be scary.
- Class issues: the intense struggles over class that happened in Britain post-WWII were woven very deftly into Waters’ narrative. This really made the book feel authentic in its time period. I actually frequently found myself in wonderment that this book was written recently, not 50 years ago because of how thoroughly I believed in the setting.
- The ending (obviously don’t read this point if you don’t want to know!): Waters’ ending was totally ambiguous, but in a very satisfying way. We do know what happened to all the characters, just not exactly how or why, which leaves much open to the reader for interpretation. I do have my own theories about what happened, but I won’t post them here when they could potentially spoil it for someone else.
I would definitely recommend this book as great Gothic literary fiction. Now I want to read more of Waters’ work!