Saturday, April 17, 2010

Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I have been rather disorganised this week with blogging, but it is because I've been reading this AWESOME book!! And by awesome I mean terrifying. Can you believe I was genuinely frightened by this book? I have read other reviews that have said they were disappointed by the lack of 'fear factor'. Well I did not feel this. However I am the person who can't watch the ads for those spooky criminal TV shows because I get all jumpy, and couldn't walk down my darkened hallway for 4 months after I saw 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'. And frankly, I think I really picked the wrong time of my life to read this book. I am house-sitting an old house at the moment which comes with its own 'little stranger', a 400 year old dog. She howls. A lot. So no sooner would my rapidly beating heart recover from a moment of suspense in the book and I was beginning to think that I might indeed survive the night...

would I hear...


I tell you what, that dog does a damn good impression of a ghost.

Now. Shall I tell you a bit about the actual book? 'The Little Stranger' is narrated by a local county doctor in Warwickshire in England, Dr Faraday, who is called to old manor house, Hundreds Hall, to see the young maid who has become ill. Over the following months he becomes increasingly involved with the family who live here, Mrs Ayres and her two grown children, Caroline and Roderick. Following an unforseen tragedy at a party hosted by the Ayres family, their lives begin to unravel as more and more seemingly inexplicable events occur.

I don't want to go into too much detail as this book unravels deliciously, if not a little frustratingly. I found Dr Faraday to be quite annoying and thought that he was far too sensible in regards to the possibility of a ghost. He was always able to rationally explain the appearance of strange marks, strange noises and strange happenings even when logic really didn't fit, passing the most bizarre happenings off as mental delusion (as any good doctor would). I found most of the characters in this book difficult to like and to relate to and found the character of Betty (the malingering adolescent parlour-maid) to be the most endearing. Mrs Ayres appeared cold and distant at first, however as her story evolves she becomes a warmer and more motherly character. Caroline and Roderick both experience the house differently, Roderick becomes desperately maddened by events, whilst Caroline initially resists and justifies them until she too, slowly succumbs to the drama as it unfolds.

This is my first Sarah Waters experience and won't be my last. Apart from all the apprehension and lack of sleep I suffered whilst reading this, I thought it was an utterly brilliant book. I was unnerved by the activity within the house and the tragic effect it had on the family. I just finished this book last night and really want to read it again as I think that upon a reread a somewhat sinister and ever so subtle twist will reveal itself to me. Alright, maybe not entirely subtle, but very much open to interpretation. And for that Sarah Waters, I take my hat, scarf, and sparkly red shoes off to you! You are a genius. This book had a really interesting effect on me. I believed everything I was told (OK, I'm quite gullible) so that when supernatural influences were implied I believed them, and when they were rationalised by logic I believed that too. So I wonder if what I think was implied was actually implied, or if I was looking for too much information and insight that I could never actually receive given that this book was written in first person. Despite its first person narrative, I feel that the perspectives of each character were mostly fairly represented, as much as they could be at least. I think that the narrative was a strength of this book and really gets the reader stuck in wonder as to whether the root of the problems here are mental delusion and strain or supernatural phantasms?

To be honest, I don't know what I believe about the conclusion of this book. I think it is a must read and am desperate to hear what other people thought of this one. Have you read it? Could you sleep?

Other Reviews [if you've reviewed this please let me know and I'll add it to the list]
Farm Lane Books
Savidge Reads
First Tuesday Book Club (spoilers)
Books Please
Book Bath
Constance Reader
Books I Done Read


Nymeth said...

I'm glad to hear you loved it! I've seen both very disappointed and very enthusiastic reviews of this one. I haven't read it yet because I don't want to run out of Sarah Waters books to read (silly, I know), but part of me also worries I won't love it as much as her others. I remain hopeful, though, especially after a review like yours.

Anonymous said...

I've heard so many good things about Sarah Waters, but I've yet to read anything by her. I really, really, really need to remedy this!

Aimee said...

I wonder if the doctor characetr is similar to the people who pissed me off in Affinity, another book of hers?

I am the same as Nymeth, i've been wanting to save up for this one...til last. I haven't read the Night Watch so it will be next, and then sadly her last one, the little stranger.


Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

Yikes -- house sitting and reading a creepy book? You're braver than me :) Sounds like a good book though!

Elise said...

Nymeth - This book is awesome. But I completely understand your reluctance to read it, it is such a sad feeling when you've read the last book available and you just have to sit and wait. I have decided Sarah Waters is a genius.

Historyofshe - This was my first Sarah Waters, however I recommend that you read her!! This book is amazing and from what else I've read it isn't her best so I can't wait to read what else she has to offer!!

Aimee - I am on my way to reading Affinity. I shall read all these books. Apparently Fingersmith is the best. Not sure if I should read it next or save it to last.

Kim - Aren't I brave? Or not... I'm really not. This was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life so far. B.R.A.V.E.

Jodie said...

I wonder if what you think is implied is what I thought was implied. Was it to do with Dr Faraday and that crack in the window, apparently caused by throwing a ring out the window?

Elise said...

Kind of Jodie, it was that and the other comment he made about what he saw when he looked behind him that got me. It is very hard to discuss without giving anything away!!