Tuesday, January 17, 2012

THE LITTLE STRANGER/Sarah Waters


Dr. Faraday is a hardworking country doctor who has known The Hundreds Hall and its estate since he was a boy; his mother was a maid there for the Ayres family. Back then, the house was like many other English estates of its class: majestic and full and a bit awe inspiring. By the time Dr. Faraday is grown, however, the Hall and estate have fallen into disrepair, the victim of the new Labour party and its socialist ideas.

As an adult, he strays upon the house quite by accident—or so it seems to him. Because his partner is unavailable, Dr. Faraday goes to treat Mrs. Ayres—one of the last surviving members of the Ayres family—and immediately finds himself enchanted by the house again, just like he was as a boy. Soon, he becomes not only the Ayres family doctor, but a close friend of the family—particularly to Caroline, Mrs. Ayres’s daughter.

His fate becomes entwined with theirs—something he’s only too happy to allow to happen, since it allows him to see the Hall nearly every day. And here Sarah Waters shows us some of her skills, for Dr. Faraday seems completely unaware that he’s mostly motivated by his obsession for the Hundreds estate. As “the little stranger” makes itself known, he explains everything away as only a doctor of that time could.

And here’s more evidence of Waters’s skill: the incidents really can be explained away in rational terms. Even in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, there’s a clear supernatural element. This novel is subtler. Because the story is told in first person from Dr. Faraday’s point of view, we are told of the scary incidents second-hand, so each incident hinges on interpretation. After awhile, you begin to feel that perhaps you’re not getting the whole story from Faraday, that he’s shading the telling ever so subtly in favor of showing each individual of the Ayres family as mad.

This way he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his part. While it’s clear Faraday truly does care immensely about the Ayres family, he’s completely unaware that he cares about Hundreds Hall more. The more disturbing things get, the more he tries to explain everything away—which is actually scarier than the little stranger itself. 

7 comments:

moonrat said...

I LOVE Sarah Waters. Have you read any others? Little Stranger is great but not even my favorite. If you like the psychological thriller element you should try AFFINITY.

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I too, love Sarah Waters. I'm off to put this in my library queue.

Tere Kirkland said...

Loved Fingersmith, so I'll have to check this out. Waters' writing is so... intense, isn't it?

stacy said...

Moonrat, I haven't tried any other Sarah Waters yet, but I'm dying to now. She's quickly become a fave. I will try AFFINITY next!

Pamala, this one is a keeper!

Tere, yes, it's intense. I knew this was something like Waters's fifth novel, but I was still impressed, particularly with her ability to narrate in first person (not an easy task). I also loved the little bibliography at the back of the book.

Francesca said...

I am following you from Rome, we are behind in books here, I never know what new books have been published. Thank you for the information.

sideline jelly said...

I was pretty disappointed by The Little Stranger. Perhaps it's because I'd come from reading Fingersmith which is just an incredible page-tuner but I struggled really hard to care about any of the characters. I just bored. She is still one of my favourite authors though.

stacy said...

You're welcome Francesca! Sorry about the delayed reply. I NEVER remember to click that little box that alerts me via email that a new comment has posted.

Sideline Jelly, I guess within a particular author's canon it's each to his/her own. One of the things that appealed to me about this was its horror/supernatural element.