“One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand 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. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.”
Thoughts: Within the blogosphere, few authors garner rave reviews and general excitement as Sarah Waters. She has become famous for her eerie novels and picturesque settings, as they hearken back to a time when Gothic novels reigned supreme. Her 2010 novel, The Little Stranger, is the definitive example of her power with words and ability to frighten readers.
From the very first, a reader is drawn into the story of Dr. Faraday as much by Ms. Waters’ descriptions of the imposing but decrepit Hundreds Hall as by her portrayals of the key characters. His fascination with Hundreds Hall, starting from the reader’s first glimpse of Dr. Faraday as a young boy visiting the grand hall to obtain an award from the mistress of the house, is palpable, as is his desire to present himself as something other than the son of working class parents. His longing, combined with the stubborn refusal of the Ayres family to admit the ending of an era, create a backdrop against which the entire rest of the novel occurs.
The power of The Little Stranger lies in Ms. Waters’ highly evocative words. A reader has no problems envisioning the decaying Victorian mansion, the hardships endured by the Ayres, and the wishful longing emanating from the wistful Dr. Faraday. Roddie’s injuries as well as Caroline’s mannishness are equally vibrant. The result is the feeling that a reader is part of the novel and not just a distant observer.
Ms. Waters’ skill at wordsmithing becomes vital when creating the hauntings that plague Hundreds Hall. They are everything that one could wish for in a haunted house and quite effective at scaring its inhabitants as well as the reader. What is quite remarkable is the fact that these hauntings are told largely after they occur. With few exceptions, the reader learns about the hauntings through retellings as they are told to Dr. Faraday. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, this only enhances their mysteriousness and their impact, as a reader is left to ponder along with Dr. Faraday whether the occurrences are actually happening or are the result of stress and declining mental health. Understanding that what someone can imagine on their own is infinitely more frightening than anything a writer can put on paper, Ms. Waters lets the reader decide the truth.
Spooky but not terrifying, The Little Stranger proves why Sarah Waters is so popular. Its imagery and general verbiage are gorgeous to behold, and the characters take on a life of their own. A reader will enjoy the spine-tingling goodness but still be able to fall asleep at night. The Little Stranger is a thinking person’s thriller and, given the dismal atmosphere that pervades the story, is a perfect autumnal read.
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.