The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

Finally a book review I hear you cry! Apologies that this has been so long in coming (get read though there are about to be quite a few) but I have to say that I really had to give myself a little space from Sarah Water’s ‘The Little Stranger’ before I could review it. I have so far only read two of Sarah Water’s other books ‘Affinity’ and ‘The Night Watch’ both of which I really enjoyed, particularly ‘Affinity’ as I found it incredibly dark, brooding and creepy plus I really love books about Victorian London in which it is set.

I have yet to conquer ‘Fingersmith’ which I have heard nothing but brilliant reviews about and I have always veered away from ‘Tipping The Velvet’ as the TV show is still very deeply etched in my mind and though the actresses were fantastic I would like to create the characters from scratch in my head. When Virago kindly sent me a copy of ‘The Little Stranger’ some weeks ago I was in the middle of reading the Orange Shortlist and so had to force myself to hold off. Whilst away a few weeks ago I went could hold back no longer.

The book opens with Dr Faraday returning to Hundreds House for the first time since his childhood when his mother was maid there. The house is much past its heyday, war and rationings and lack of money in the country have turned it into a shadow of its former self. It’s dilapidated and a little bit creepy and the son and heir Roderick is selling land to make ends meet but slowly and surely the house is falling into more debt and more disrepair. He is there to see the maid who is ill, once there he finds she isn’t and that she is simply homesick and scared of the feelings of a presence in the household, something she believed is evil and lurking at Hundreds Hall. From there Dr Faraday makes a bond with the family and Mrs Ayres and daughter Caroline in particular and so witnesses some ‘unnatural’ events as they occur and things start to spiral out of control.

Sarah Waters fifth book sees her writing all about a totally new period in history (post-WWII Warwickshire) from her others. The first three (Affinity, Tipping The Velvet, Fingersmith) were all set in the Victorian Era and The Night Watch moved into the second world war. It also sees her first cast of only ‘straight’ characters as before the leads have tended to been lesbians, so it seemed from the outset that Waters was trying something a little different which is always exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) when its an author that you like. I needn’t have worried because one thing that you always know with a Sarah Waters book, well it is what I have found so far, is that whichever era, setting or background the story has its going to have been researched to the maximum and her writing will envelope you in that era without any effort from you at all.

In fact for me the book was more a story of the fall and decline of society and the ‘rich family piles and country homes’ than a ghost story as until about three hundred pages in only a few odd things had actually taken place. Oh I should note if you are a dog lover one of the occurrences results in one of the saddest scenes in the whole book which actually really got to me, but I shall say no more. Though there is a great sense of paranoia and unease through out the book and some shades of ‘The Turning of the Screw’ and sensationalist novels from the likes of Wilkie Collins and indeed ‘Rebecca’ by my favourite wrier Daphne Du Maurier with a sprinkling of Grey Gardens thrown in, I never actually felt scared or chilled by the book. In fact after what was quite a ‘me’ opening of the book, a big spooky house and mysterious events going on it petered out and I was left, and I feel awful for saying this as the writing was wonderful, I came away slightly disappointed.

I was expecting a huge twist at the end and at first I couldn’t see one at all. However I would recommend that should you read the book, and I think people should, you might want to re-read the final few chapters as I suddenly saw a huge twist that shocked me a little and actually the very last line alludes to slightly which I then had to re-read. If my second reading and discovery is true then that gave me the chills far more than the ghostly parts of the book did. I don’t know if anyone else has? If you have read it and did then don’t comment on here but email me as I don’t want to give out any plot spoilers.

All in all I wouldn’t classify this as a ghost story, I would definitely say it’s a view of society at a very changing time, the love story between Dr Faraday (who was beginning to really grate on me towards the end) and Caroline was interesting in terms of class and how it all worked in the past but was evolving towards for the future was very interesting too. I look forward to what Waters does next; in the meantime I think I am going to definitely have to pick up Fingersmith very soon.


Filed under Man Booker, Review, Sarah Waters, Virago Books

28 responses to “The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

  1. Harriet

    Sarah Waters is definitely one of my favorite living novelists. I have not yet got a copy of this but am really looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the review.

    • Harriet, I feel myself that I have slated it a bit and I dont mean to have as it is very very good. I just wish that publishers would blurb books correctly, theres a line between a hard sell and being little misleading. I think for a book on the fall of society its cracking!

  2. I am saving this book up as a special treat but I am being so tempted to just read it after seeing so many great reviews for it. I have to say my favourite Waters novel is Affinity – I did love Fingersmith but something about it just didn’t sit right with me – not really sure what! I LOVED Affinity though!

    • I am totally with you on Affinity Karen, its a wonderful wonderful book and very much overlooked. I will be interested to see what I make of Fingersmith, my mother (not as infamous on my blog as my gran) is an English Teacher and its one of her favourites!

  3. I’ve got this book as an audio on my iPod, and I was thinking of starting it next. I’ve not read anything by Sarah Waters, but love things slightly spooky. I’m looking forward to it!

  4. Hi, I’ve just across your post via Google Alerts (for Virago Books). As I have read The Little Stranger I was interested in reading your review and now intrigued about the “twist” you found. I would email you but I can’t figure out how to do that! If you have time to email me I would enjoy discussing this with you; I have a suspicion of what your conclusion was but seeing I don’t have my copy to hand (ahem, I sold it after reading it) I can’t re-read the last sentence! You may also like to read my review, which is somewhat critical. To have found a more conclusive reason for the novel’s events would please me greatly.

  5. Patti Abbott

    If your twist was my twist, I do think it’s the truth and for me elevated beyond the book above a rather tepid and lengthy if good critique of British society circa 1950. I can’t say here, of course but everyone is not what they seem. Right?

    • Oooooh please email me (see an above reply for the address) as I think we are on different wavelengths bit really want to hear your thoughts! Isnt it amazing how different people respond to books!?!

  6. I think this may be the fourth or fifth time I have mentioned on your blog how much I am looking forward to reading this 😀 In fact, I think it might be ready for me to pickup at the library! …toddles off to check

  7. jo

    I just finished and enjoyed fingersmith. I think’m going to read some of her previous books first but I’m looking forward to getting to this one

  8. ivoryfishbone

    I have emailed about this matter! Interesting to find people talking about a book you’ve just read & want to discuss


  9. Ok, have just finished this, and am interested to hear what you thought about the end! It was quite ambiguous, and I have no idea if what I thought was what was intended!

    • Yes this seems to be the thing with this book. I love the fact Sarah Waters believes that her readers are clever enough to work it out themselves. However I think we could all have done with a little more of a hint!

  10. Simon, just found your post. Jenny and I are reviewing this book now and discussing the ending. It should post tonight, so please stop by and see if our theory matches yours! (I’m pretty sure it does–and it really elevates the book to something special.)

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  14. Read this a year after you, and going through old reviews to see what other people thought! I loved the book, and was scared by it (!) until the end when I was just baffled… I thought I’d worked out was going on at about p.300, and I still might be right, but I was expecting a more conclusive ending…

    • Thank you for commenting on this one Simon as you have just shown me how many comments I havent responded too! Whoops that makes me feel most embarrassed. I will have to respond to them all now.

      Anyway the book. I liked it, I was expecting so much more I think I was initially harder on it than maybe I should have been as it has stayed with me. I just think Sarah Waters is a superb, superb writer and that maybe I just expected something more. More what I am not quite sure though.

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