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The Little Stranger Hardcover – April 30, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Waters (The Night Watch) reflects on the collapse of the British class system after WWII in a stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor, first visited Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a parlor maid, at age 10 in 1919. When Faraday returns 30 years later to treat a servant, he becomes obsessed with Hundreds's elegant owner, Mrs. Ayres; her 24-year-old son, Roderick, an RAF airman wounded during the war who now oversees the family farm; and her slightly older daughter, Caroline, considered a natural spinster by the locals, for whom the doctor develops a particular fondness. Supernatural trouble kicks in after Caroline's mild-mannered black Lab, Gyp, attacks a visiting child. A damaging fire, a suicide and worse follow. Faraday, one of literature's more unreliable narrators, carries the reader swiftly along to the devastating conclusion. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
At its core, The Little Stranger is an old-fashioned ghost story, complete with spooky house, eccentric inhabitants, an air of general madness and malcontent, and a narrator who may not be as mild-mannered as he seems. What elevates this novel from the crowded genre is Waters’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the past as she skillfully weaves tension and dread into each paragraph. The reviewer from Newsday likened this tale to the psychological classic The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Perhaps the critic from the Telegraph (who voiced only a very minor complaint about the ending) summed up the reviewers’ opinions best of all by hailing this novel as a genuinely creepy story “guaranteed to make anyone with a pulse gibber in fright.”
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
Top customer reviews
But this book is missing the joy of some of Sarah Waters' other books. It has more technical detail than her other books. With every incident there is a post-mortem. For the detectives, lawyers, and mystery lovers among us, the technical details involved in the series of incidents will pique their interest. For me, the abundance of technical details made for dry reading, and I longed to get back to going on rounds with Dr. Faraday. I'm more of a people person. If you love gothic mysteries, this might be your cup of tea, but don't expect complete closure because, although there are some answers to the mysteries, Waters leaves many questions unanswered.
"The Little Stranger" is not -- well, not as "strange" as "Hill House" - at least not in quite the same way. It is a tale that comes across as being much more plausible. It is an intriguing tale of an English manor home fallen upon hard times and the high-society folks who live within its walls. It is a story of strange happenings within the walls, of a proud family struggling to keep their heads above water after the war and the kindness of the local country doctor who befriends them and is ultimately drawn into all of the mysterious happenings.
Right from the first page the author begins to establish a sense of time and place - characters that are so well fleshed out you easily envision each one. The writing flows so well and is so entriguing you find yourself quickly reading on to learn more and more. By the end of the book you feel as though the characters are your own neighbors and forelorn friends.
The "haunting" aspect of the story is quite subtle -- just the way I like it. Written for "thinking adults" and not necessarily those who want to be left shaking in their boots with fear as they turn each page, you are made to think about what is going on - left to puzzle out the strangeness of what occurs - just as the characters are doing. I can still envision the manor home, the class differences in society, and I still feel the emotions of each person involved. The strangeness of what occurs gives you an uneasy feeling - a touch of fear - a sense of foreboding. I felt that weird type of fear that leaves you wanting a bit more of it - the puzzlement of what is actually going on in that home.
To say much more will give away too much of the plot but just let me say this: the ending will forever haunt you -- it will leave you wondering and thinking about every little detail that transpired between the covers of this book. I will definitely wait about a month and then re-read this one! It is that well crafted - it is that good. My friends who have read this book each have a different conclusion about the end -- it is definitely a book for those who "think". If I could give this book a million "stars" for pleasure I certainly would. I highly recommend reading this tale of a very, very strange haunting and hope that the author crafts another equally brilliant - soon.
Shortly after World War II, where most of this novel takes place, Hundreds Hall is in decline, as is the Ayres family, who are barely able to keep up appearances. Gone is the staff, and the family, mother, son, and daughter, live in penurious splendor, hanging on as best they can.
Moreover, the gentry is no longer a force with which to be reckoned, as class distinctions are swiftly eroding. No one knows this better than Dr. Faraday, whose mother was once a maid at Hundreds Hall. Now, he is called to tend to the family. In doing so, he finds himself drawn in into something that defies reason.
This book does call to mind Henry James and The Turning of the Screw, as there are similarities. The author, however, succeeds in making this genre her own. Her narrative is rich and evocative, chilling the reader as the house seems to take on a life of its own. What happens is mind boggling, but so wonderfully told that it captivates the reader, who will find it positively spooky and creepy, indeed. My only criticism is the seeming lack of a satisfying resolution at the end.