Nicola Mcfall's Reviews > The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
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's review
Feb 05, 2010

it was amazing
Read in March, 2010

This book was really great! I chose to read it after seeing it on the TV book club and I am really glad I did. It is one of the best written books I have read in a while and the story is clever and compelling. The characters are well developed and I can see why the TV book club chose this book because it opens up theories and themes that would be great to discuss.

The story is essentially a ghost story set at Hundreds hall following the story of the Ayres family as their home and society crumble around them on post war Britain. The story is told by the family doctor Dr Faraday and traces a line of one tragedy after another that leads to the complete collapse of the family. While labelled a ghost story - people who are not fans of that genre should not be put off because it is written in a way that leaves the ghosts in the plot in question. A stream of stubborn realism runs alongside the supernatural elements and so while it is a ghost story if you wish it to be, it doesn't have to be if you don't.

I think it is worth mentioning the characters in the novel as they are brilliantly formed and as essentially one of the main characters is not a human but Hundreds Hall. It becomes part of the story in too strong a way to be considered anything other than a character in my opinion


Caroline was to me a very interesting character. The strongest of the family, and the main connection with Dr Faraday, the narrator - we as readers probably knew her best and yet there was a feeling that at the end of the novel that we might not have known her at all. Mrs Ayres is the main touch point with the ghost element of the story - being the one who created the strongest link with an actual dead spirit. Roderick and his illness open up a whole new stream of thought - madness leading to belief in the supernatural or supernatural leading to madness? But by far the most interesting character in the novel is the narrator for me. My theory for the whole ending of the book was that the entire downfall of the family was his doing - the first decline in the house that would essentially go on to destroy them all was when he as a child chipped away at some of the plaster in the house - and it was when he returned years later that the downfall of the family happened. He is a proud and rather nasty character at times - full of his own self importance and self pity at his humble beginnings. Its obvious to me that he has a stronger connection with the house than he has with the family despite what he may say. I felt that throughout the book that HE was somehow feeding the negative energy that was giving the house power to do all the evil that was happening. I hated his attitude - how he felt spited on behalf of his servant mother when the Ayres laughed about old stories of their servants while at the same time quite blatantly bullying the current servant Betty. I hated his attitude towards Caroline, how he basically decided that they should be married and kept pushing and pushing at her when she was very obviously obviously not comfortable and how he planned to change her and her home once they were married. He then stood and declared her insane simply because she hadn't married him - when I believe that it is perfectly clear that she had not married him because she is a lesbian! Then, with the family destroyed he took it upon himself to continue to go to the house - he is obviously poisonous!

As I already said - I think this book is great. The only problem that I have with it is that I am not sure that it is particularly memorable! I think that 6 months down the line I may struggle to remember the story but it is most certainly well worth the read and I have every intention in following it up by reading more of Sarah Waters Novels
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Comments (showing 1-5)

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Sonja Great to read your character theories! Really interesting. I think Caroline's more attracted to women too :) I also thought the ending might reveal Faraday to have had more of an influence on the events. I like your point about the acorn marking the beginning of the house's decline!

message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 10, 2011 05:18AM) (new)

About Dr Faraday, I agree completely. That is to say, not he was necessarily the cause of it all, but that I felt similarly to how you did. that's the best thing about this book, the not knowing... :)

Nicola Mcfall I have to say - that I was wrong when I would say I would forget the story after 6 months! It still stands very clearly in my head and reamins one of the best books I have read in recent years.

message 2: by E2c (new) - rated it 4 stars

E2c Caroline: not at all sure that she's a lesbian; more convinced that she was frightened by Faraday's ultra-possessiveness, controlling attitude and (let's face it) near-rape. I think she suspects his intentions on a gut level, and she's right to. (Not all "old maids" are lesbians; not all male-female contact is guaranteed to produce coupling; many criminals have the ability to insinuate themselves into peoples' lives - in this case, it is - sickeningly - a lot like the way a pedophile grooms their victims).

Keep an eye on who has keys to the house, who can dispense all kinds of drugs (including barbituates that can have terrible side effects), and above all, the timing of events.

Though in the end, I'm not sure that the "who" is as important as the "why" - ultimately, the atmosphere Waters creates is most important, along with the clearly-drawn picture of social class reshuffling and economic hardship in post-WWII England.

Jane Ayres I so agree with your review. I literally just finished the book and feel it will haunt me for some time as I try to unravel all the threads. As soon as I finished I went straight back to the start and began to re-read, searching for all the clues, which are there for the reader to see. I agree that the moment the unreliable narrator steals the acorn as a child (symbolic in itself)- brutally cutting it with his penknife when it won't yield to him, the family's fate is sealed. And as he says early on, the family's decline began immediately after this, beginning with the death of six year old Susan and continuing from then on. It is just that the malevolence increases more rapidly when he is physically called to the house - and again, this is because Betty is afraid because of what she thinks is within it - so he even engineers this, although unknowingly. He lacks self awareness to a high degree - tragically so. I am tempted to read the entire book again, since I am certain I will uncover more layers the second time round. Brilliant stuff!

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