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The Little Stranger Paperback – May 4, 2010
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—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
"A classic gothic page-turner."
“Wonderfully evoked…Waters has rendered the old house magnificently in its fading glory, and its in habitants sparkle like chandeliers in the damp, peeling rooms…Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel.”
—The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“Haunted by the spirits of Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe…Waters is just one turn of the screw away from ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ She keeps the lightening flashing in every gloomy chapter, and you can’t help but gasp, ‘It’s alive!’”
—The Washington Post
“Completely absorbing…I wanted to linger in that fictional world, page by page, chapter by chapter.”
“A virtuoso writer…If you want a ghost story that creeps up your spine, The Little Stranger delivers.”
—The Seattle Times
“Waters has managed to write a near-perfect gothic novel while at the same time confidently deploying the form into fresher territory. It’s an astonishing performance, right down to the book’s mournful and devastating final sentence.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Waters creates an atmosphere of quiet dread that’s unnerving and compelling.”
“With its subtly orchestrated suspense and spot-on portrayal of English class divisions, Waters’s literary ghost story delights.”
“A marvelous and truly spooky historical novel.”
—The Boston Globe
“Rich with historic detail and slow, deliberate building toward the revelation of its secrets, [The Little Stranger] delights even as it leaves you unnerved.”
—The Miami Herald
“Like the gloomy English weather, an air of impending doom lingers over every chapter of The Little Stranger…an up-all-night page-turner that provides a cogent dose of social commentary.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“In The Little Stranger, Hundreds Hall serves as a perfect symbol of the postwar erosion of Britain’s class hierarchies, but it also, increasingly, transforms into a scheming, deadly character…Waters, a master at stoking anticipation, withholds the truth about her ghost until the final pages. By then we already strongly suspect its identity, but the confirmation is subtle, surprising, and deeply, deeply chilling.”
“A stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Few authors do dread as well as Waters. Her latest novel is a ghost story with elements of both ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and Brideshead Revisited. This spooky satisfying read has the added pleasure of effectively detailing postwar village life, with its rationing, social structures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain’s massive change to a social state.”
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I didn't hate this book, but honestly, I would not recommend it either. It is definitely a slow-burn, atmospheric tale, and I found it to be well written - far more so than many other popular novelists, but the ending is just so anti-climactic. From the beginning, I was very interested - in both the "spooky" elements, as well as the historical setting; I really enjoyed the historical elements that serve as the backdrop of the novel, and I learned a lot about England in the post WWII era. Still, although I found myself loath to "put it down," this sentiment was due more from a desire to actually see something happen, rather than the suspense that something would happen. This book contains far or the mundane than it does of supernatural events. Then, by the time we get to the matriarch's death, all I really wanted to know was the identity of the ghost/spirit/poltergeist. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I got to chapter 15 and no explanation appeared. In the beginning, I felt certain that the "ghost" was the spirit of the deceased daughter, but as things progressed, this theory was dispelled, and I became convinced that the rather vengeful spirit wreaking havoc on the home was the projected negative energy of the narrator. One of the reviews I read praised the good doctor, and he is a swell guy - a regular Marcus Welby; however, I found many aspects of his personality concerning. This started with the "parking" scene when Caroline had to fight off his attentions. I was seriously concerned for a moment that he might rape her! Then, once he decides that he is interested in her romantically, he becomes quite controlling. Caroline recognizes this by the end of the novel and calls him on it. Consequently, at the end of the book when he drives back to the pond (the locale of the earlier "parking" scene) and has a strange dream about going back to Hundreds, I assumed that it was he who pushed Caroline off the landing. I became even more convinced of this when we learn that Caroline's last word was "you!" Caroline would certainly not refer to the ghost of her sister in this way; she never knew her sister. It's possible that the negative "energy" might have borne the face of her brother, but whom else would she have recognized but the doctor? Prior to this revelation, I had considered that it might be Betty's negative energy that was causing all the supernatural occurrences, but the doctor's s strange dream - combined with his state of mind, his actions after the breakup, and the timing of Caroline's death - led me to believe that, at the very least, he was responsible for her death, if not the other events. And yet, the end of the book addresses neither of those possibilities! Indeed, neither theory is even overtly hinted at! All in all, I just found the entire thing disappointing. Prior to completing the novel, I was really looking forward to the film, but now I'm not even sure it will be worth watching...
Analysts and readers will debate whether this is a Ghost, Poltergeist or Psychological novel. The atmosphere is adequately Gothic and yet despite the fine writing the story spirals to shoulder shrugging conclusion.
In the end heartbreak and death seem the destiny of all involved. Ms. Waters offers a keen observation on England's Working Class and declining Gentry in post World War II.
Reviewers will want to know - did I enjoy the book? And my answer is yes but I found it to be frustrating read as I wanted to slap silly all the main characters for their obtuseness. Worth a read, hard to put down but don't expect to be satisfied in the end. Not your typical ghost story - so leave your paranormal baggage at home
Top international reviews
Faraday, a GP with - in his own words - the appearance of a ‘balding shopkeeper’ is called out to Hundreds, the sizable home of the Ayres family in Warwickshire countryside, to attend to young maid Betty who appears to have a stomach complaint. It’s 1947 but Faraday has been to the house years before, when his mother was in service there. ‘I knew the place, I had been here before,’ strangely reminiscent of the character Charles Ryder in his opening to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, and a likely indication of what the reader can expect; a decaying aristocracy, repressions, addictions, the emergence of new social order, and an unhappy? love affair.
Sure enough, Faraday encounters son Rodrick, war-damaged and edgy, meets his sister - cardigan-wearing Caroline, heavy of face, straight of leg, and he converses with their mother Mrs Ayres who seems like a slightly better-presented version of Miss Havisham. Ma Ayres is an emotional cold fish whose displacement activities consist of gazing at old family photographs and recalling her late husband ‘the Colonel.’ She wastes no time in putting Pip – sorry Dr. Faraday - in his place by presenting him with a photograph of the Hundreds’ staff taken in the 1890s(?) which according to her shows Faraday’s mother. The metaphor of cold fish is aptly and masterly developed three quarters way through the narrative in a scene in Hundreds’ walled garden during which Faraday presses his hands against the ice of an ornamental pond to let air to the imprisoned carp swimming below.
Faraday’s visits to the Ayres family increase in frequency as the narrative progresses, in fact so much of his time he's spending there that the reader is baffled by how he has time for other patients, puzzled as to how he can hold his practice together or his relationship with professional partner Dr Graham. To my mind this highlights the first of two main flaws in this novel. Faraday is the main protagonist, moreover he’s the sole narrator, but it’s Hundreds which is the seat of the action. He can't be in two places at once, so a large proportion of the narrative – including some of the most dramatic scenes – is delivered to the reader second hand - 'Caroline told me later', or 'Mrs Ayres told me later,' which gives it an air of artificiality and pushes the reader away. Perhaps that was Waters’ intention, and it’s only my view, someone else may see it differently.
The second problem is that of sowing the seed of an idea and then reinforcing that idea. It’s no spoiler to say that the house appears to have a spook. That’s what every reader wants to believe, and given the situation of weird house, eccentric family they don’t need much convincing – two or three incidents of poltergeist/ghostly activity would do the job, but Waters spends several hundred pages showing the reader what they have already taken on board, give a spook some respect! The reader wants to move on, perhaps witness attempts at exorcism, hear more about the psychology of Rodrick, or the dark side of the Colonel, but instead they’re forced to sit in frustration reading about an apparently endless war of attrition between Betty (poltergeist believer) Rodrick (believer) Mrs Ayres (believer) Caroline (undecided) and Faraday (sceptic, man of science and, ‘trust me I’m a doctor!’). The reader feels like part of the audience of a pantomime where there’re frustrated shouts of, ‘behind you!’ It might well work on screen – and I’ve not seen the film of the same title – in tension build and suspense, but on the page, it seems to be overworked, over-written, and occasionally tedious. I emphasize, my view alone, others may see differently.
There’s some wonderful writing though. In one scene, Faraday – who begins to think he might do worse than marry ‘plain old Miss Caroline Ayres’, takes her to a doctors’ dance. It’s written in immediate scene, brings the reader straight into the action, and gives real substance to the relationship between Faraday and Caroline. There’s a scene in Faraday’s car ‘after the ball has ended’ and it made this reader – anyway – wistful of perhaps not having gone to enough dances in his youth, and rather conscious of his own clumsiness. First rate!
The question I found myself left with was, why did Waters not give Caroline a point of view -POV- of her own, then the reader could experience her mood and feelings first hand. It needn’t have weakened the denouement, nor explained the oddness of Caroline, but in my opinion it would have made better literature, rather than the work reading like an over-sized maquette intended to be later handed over to a screenwriter for the ‘serious’ business of film making?!
Beautifully written, evocative.
Unrealistic; doesn’t have to be this devastatingly sad ?!
Too dark for my liking and too unjust even in realist term
If one is in melancholy mood,best to leave it for the brighter times
I had previously read paying guests, I love the way she writes drawing you in to the character’s personalities . Will definitely read her other books ,2 of which have been televised, hope this one is too.
In addition to carefully crafted plot and fully-fleshed out, engaging characters Waters' writing is just such a joy to read. She does not misplace a single word.
I am in awe, and excited for having discovered this writer. Can't wait to read more of her books.
Waters very convincingly captures the atmosphere of Britain just after WW2. The language she uses, the understated reticence of it's central narrator and the clear and unfussy descriptions of the village, the house and the changes on the way.
The characters are fully realised from the outset, you believe in them as real people. The situation they are, not just a family dealing with a spiteful ghost but a family that has no place in the modern Britain that is coming.
The house gradually infects all the main characters, finally the narrator himself succumbs and Waters does this part really well. You become aware suddenly that there is something very wrong with him, that he is 'almost' an unreliable narrator.
The ending is a little sudden and perhaps might have benefited from being spooled out a little longer. I'd like to say more about some of the weaknesses of the book but can't without giving away the plot. But despite the books faults and they are minor in comparison to the rubbish many other writers get away with, it is unputdownable. From the first first word on the first page, Waters has you gripped. I'm looking forward to reading more from her.
The ghost story creaks a bit: some of the ghostly apparitions just made me laugh. The big old country house where they just can't get servants any more - it's all rather cliched. On the other hand, I've seen quite a few houses like that, and the description is spot on - the radiators giving out a feeble trickle of heat that is at once sucked away into nothingness; the sagging wallpaper... And of course those houses were ten a penny in the 50s, and many of them were eventually bulldozed.
There's a deft and satisfying twist at the very end, and some fine prose en route. This is a good read.
I was so impressed with this book that I recommended it to my mother in law. She also loved it however refused to read it in bed at night as the story was 'too unsettling'