Book #78

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters


One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive 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. 
Its owners - mother, son, and daughter - are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? 
Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

I know what this book was marketed as, but after reading I’m quite unsure what it’s supposed to be. I was geared up for some chilling historical fiction mixed with the supernatural and I’ve come away feeling The Little Stranger was neither of those.

Water’s post-war Warwickshire is practically idyllic. A small town with its small town concerns and the almost proverbial big house, there to remind all of their small station in life. But its inhabitants are not as grand as they used to be, with financial and personal concerns, the house seems destined to crumble into ruins.

Faraday, our narrator and local doctor, weaves the tale of Hundreds house as he recalls his childhood awe of it. He then becomes embroiled with the family, and the story turns into a rolling account of his steeped love of the house, and the love for those within its walls. And really, that’s pretty much it. For almost 500 pages we wander through the halls, watch the decay of both the physical and philosophical innards of the home, almost to the point of destruction, and then fin.

Waters has gone for the maddening tactic here of allowing her readers to interpret whether the spooky goings on are manifested by chaotic spirits or the plain old chaos of the human condition. I usually enjoy this vague approach, and I remember both Shelley Jackson and Wilkie Collins employing similar methods, but it fell flat for me here. There were far too many pages, an excess of description, to make any room for suspense or dread.

A slow read through the English countryside of 1947 with commentaries on class and relationships. Not really one for the spook fanatics.