The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Published by Virago in 2010
My copy: Second-hand copy
In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, its owners – mother, son and daughter – struggling to keep pace. 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 entwined with his.
I have only read one other Sarah Waters book – The Paying Guests – which I absolutely loved, and since then have been meaning to read her other novels. I have since acquired two from second-hand shops, and this is the first I decided to read recently.
One thing I loved about The Paying Guests was the historical detail and the real sense of time and place, and The Little Stranger is much the same. Set in the 1940s after the war, Dr Faraday, our narrator, is called to an old house to tend to a young servant girl who has taken ill. The doctor, who first visited Hundreds Hall as a young boy, is shocked at the state of disrepair the house has fallen into, yet rapidly becomes embroiled in the lives of the inhabitants – the ageing yet still dignified Mrs Ayres and her grown-up children Caroline and Roderick.
As the novel progresses, things start to get slowly creepier as strange occurrences take place within the house. Roderick is the first victim of this, as he starts to experience strange ghostly visions – and the doctor is there to investigate. Soon the whole family is unsure as to what is going on within the house, which continues to crumble around them…
I found this book very readable and as I say I loved the historical detail, and I felt I could really picture Hundreds Hall and all its once-lavish rooms. I also liked the characters – there are few in the book so we really get a feel for their personalities. The novel did feel a little over-long at times and it does feel slow-paced in parts, but the tension does build up nicely to the conclusion.
The ending of this book came as a surprise to me as it seemed inconclusive at first – however it was thinking about the book after I’d finished it that made me realise what had in fact been happening. However there are a lot of questions over what has really gone on in Hundreds Hall, and I think many readers would find this frustrating, as many loose ends are left untied!
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked the pervading creepiness and the historical detail, and although the ending is ambiguous, that added to my overall enjoyment and I find myself still thinking about what happened in Hundreds Hall even though I finished the novel a few weeks ago now.