Laura's Reviews > The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
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's review
May 12, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, audiobook, ghost

If you are looking for a traditional horror novel, you won't find it in
The Little Stranger. This book is not a variant on The Shining that just happens to be set in post-WWII Britain: it is essentially historical fiction that happens to have a touch of the supernatural about it. And as historical fiction it is excellent. Sarah Waters evokes the atmosphere not only of another time (1947) but, for Americans at least, another place as well because in many ways The Little Stranger is a very "British" novel. In her depictions of the Ayres family and Hundreds Hall, the author shows us the final death throes of an entire British way of life that had lasted for centuries in one form or another. Whatever our modern feelings of distate for a formal class system may be, the author makes us feel how devastating the loss of it was for those at the top, and how it left them adrift, not only physically due to lack of servants, but ethically as well: for if they are not, as Mrs. Ayres describes, "an example" of all that is good for those below them, what purpose do they serve?

Another lingering remnant of that way of life that plays an important role in the story is the idea that what you can achieve is - at least partially - determined by who your parents were in local society. Dr. Faraday, the son of a shop-keeper and a mother who had been "in-service", still feels the awkwardness of being the first in his family to "rise above their place". The resistance of what is left of "county society" to the new ideas of equality and independence is very obvious when they gather at Hundreds Hall for a small evening party and find Dr. Faraday in attendance, drink in hand. Regardless of his evening dress, they immediately assume he is there only because someone is ill. It has to be explained to them that he is there as a guest and even then there is some awkwardness, not because of who Dr. Faraday is, but because of who his parents were. Dr. Faraday may be a perfectly nice man and a skilled doctor, but he's still not quite "their sort".

If immersion in the atmosphere of a historical period does not interest you, you will not like The Little Stranger. A great deal of what is horrifying in the novel - and it is horrifying - is intimately tied to that cultural period of British history. If the supernatural "incidents" are pulled out of the story and examined strictly for their shock value a la modern horror novels, they will be disappointing. This book is the result of many different threads, interwoven so skillfully that they cannot be separated and still make any sense. The supernatural aspects of the story are also of the more ambigous variety. If you enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of the Screw or even the more modern A Good and Happy Child you will enjoy the frightening elements of The Little Stranger. If you prefer your supernatural forces to come with complete explanations, this book may feel incomplete to you.

Link to an interesting review of this book by NPR.
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Reading Progress

May 12, 2009 – Shelved
May 12, 2009 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
May 12, 2009 – Shelved as: audiobook
Started Reading
May 22, 2009 – Shelved as: ghost
May 22, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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Nancy This is an excellent review. Better than mine which was short. This pretty much says it all and would make a good review for any book lists where the point is to sell the books.

Laura Thank you, Nancy. I'd be interested to know what you thought was behind the supernatural events at Hundreds Hall but I don't want to put spoilers here - I hope it's ok if I send you a message? I'm dying to find out what other people think!

Nancy Laura wrote: "Thank you, Nancy. I'd be interested to know what you thought was behind the supernatural events at Hundreds Hall but I don't want to put spoilers here - I hope it's ok if I send you a message? I'm ..."

This is a much more realistic haunting than most books. Having had some personal experiences, most supernatural events are not like the Amityville Horror, but more subtle like this. I loved this book for its realism. I, too, don't want to give too much away as then people would have no reason to read the book and it is extremely well done and well paced.
I liked it that you also thought it was like Turn of the Screw. You made me want to look into A Good and Happy Child.
I am still impressed with your review. I'm relatively new to Goodreads and not quite sure how to find my voice.

Jane Hi Laura,
I just finished reading this book and enjoyed it. You've written a wonderful review. As you did, I loved the author's attention to historical detail and her ability to capture and convey this world to her readers. I also found the characters to be -- although not always likeable -- thoroughly engaging.

Laura Jane - thanks for the nice words about my review! I agree that the characters weren't always nice, but in some ways that made them more realistic.

Annelien I agree with your entire review, which was really well written to boot :) i just finished the book about an hour ago and , yes, i'd have liked some more explanations but then again, maybe this makes it even better.

Laura Thanks Annelien! I was disappointed in the ending at first too, but now I enjoy the fact that the ambiguity lets you re-interpret the story so many different ways, depending on how you decide to read the end of the book.

message 8: by Carol (last edited Apr 13, 2010 10:14AM) (new)

Carol Neman Laura wrote: "Thanks Annelien! I was disappointed in the ending at first too, but now I enjoy the fact that the ambiguity lets you re-interpret the story so many different ways, depending on how you decide to re..."

Now I want to go to the last few pages and see 'whodunnit'...but I won't. This sounds like a good one for when I'm in a more somber mood...I do rather like historical (accurately so) novels and movies...loved 'Godford Park' (movie), don't know if that was from a book. This one sounds like (from the NPR review, and partial excerpt) I would really like it and that my interest would be strong enough to bridge the gaps between reading that I can't help sometimes.

Oh, and ditto to what others have said about your review, very satisfying.

message 9: by Kim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kim Just finished this book yesterday. Your review is just right. I'll be following your others. The comparison to Turn of the Screw is a good one.

message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Cochrane Sounds like my kind of book. Your review was very helpful and well written. I now look forward to reading this book.

message 11: by J.A. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.A. Ironside Great review. I have a theory about the supernatural events posted in my review which is hidden to prevent spoilers. Love to know what you think the cause was too.

message 12: by Don (new) - rated it 3 stars

Don Gillette This was an excellent review. Much more in depth than mine. I wish I'd read this before reading the book because although it was good, it wasn't what I was looking for. The character development, setting descriptions, and historical explanations were amazing; the supernatural and psychological elements didn't dazzle me.

message 13: by Debbie (new) - added it

Debbie Wasn't going to bother reading this book after reading some comments like "Don't read late at night." Not because I was afraid but because horror is not my genre anymore. I usually read true crime and that is enough horror! But after reading this review I definitely want to read this book now. I love being immersed in the era of which I am reading about. The supernatural aspects will just be an added bonus. And I just read that this is being made into a movie. I much prefer a book to a movie but that knowledge gives me another little bit of interest. Thanks for a great review!

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