The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger

Book rating: 04 Hardback

By (author) Sarah Waters

List price $26.69

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Paperback $8.19
  • Publisher: Virago Press Ltd
  • Format: Hardback | 512 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 216mm x 46mm | 721g
  • Publication date: 28 May 2009
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1844086011
  • ISBN 13: 9781844086016
  • Sales rank: 53,938

Product description

After her award-winning trilogy of Victorian novels, Sarah Waters turned to the 1940s and wrote THE NIGHT WATCH, a tender and tragic novel set against the backdrop of wartime Britain. Shortlisted for both the Orange and the Man Booker, it went straight to number one in the bestseller chart. In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at 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, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. 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. Prepare yourself. From this wonderful writer who continues to astonish us, now comes a chilling ghost story.

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Author information

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has been shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes and three of her four novels have been adapted for television.

Customer reviews

By Happy 19 Feb 2010 5

Sarah Waters is one of a handful of authors that due to my bookstore employment I feel as though I discovered. These are authors whose first books I read, fell in love with the storytelling or writing style--- something-- and started putting it into friends and customer's hands while I impatiently waited for the next book. Sarah Waters is one of those writers for me. I feel very proprietary and protective towards her books. --I didn't mean that to come out so much like a warning, but I'm not unhappy that it did.

On the page turning surface "The Little Stranger" is a ghost story. I have to say seeing that description on the book jacket stopped me in my tracks. I'm no reader of scary tales. Scooby Doo cartoons make me nervous. I am a certified, sleep with the light on coward. I do not want creepy thoughts and scary images tucked away in my brain files ready to pop out at me at any time. But... Sarah Waters is one of my pets so onward I pressed.

"The Little Stranger" could be called a follow up to the wonderful "The Night Watch". In Night a group of desperate people struggle to survive WWII London. There the war was the main character. It drove all action and decisions. In Stranger the war has ended but it's power has not diminished and the ghosts it left behind are many.

The novel is set in a rural community in England. The national anxiety of waiting for bombs to drop or news of loved ones has been replaced with the death of hierarchies and the worries that massive social change brings. Those changes are especially strong in the Great Houses across England. In the book, Hundreds Hall is the former grand estate of it's neighborhood. It is now a shabby, barely hanging on wreck of a place. The great family is still living there: Mrs Ayres clinging to the past like grim death, her war damaged son, Roderick and her war missing daughter, Caroline. They have economized to the point of austerity. Half of the house is shut down, land has been sold off, they are attempting to keep the farm viable and have let all but 2 of the servants go but with the Labor Party ruling the day and the family's inability to adapt Hundreds Hall seems to be doomed to extinction.

Into this very contained world comes our narrator. The classic Victorian ghost story bachelor, Dr. Faraday. Set in his ways, slightly woman hating and socially unremarkable. Dr. Faraday isn't the sort who ever would have made it into the Ayres's circle in their glory days. He is the middle class on the doorstep of his betters. His Mother had been a maid at Hundreds Hall in her youth and his father a shopkeeper. Both of his parents sacrificed to raise him above his station. Faraday carries with him enough inbred British class system romanticization that his acceptance by the Ayres family into their world is the ultimate success for him. He is flattered, ready to worship and agonizes over each setback the family endures. This and his unshakable belief in science makes the veracity of his narration suspect and adds to the drama of the story.

Ghosts abound in "The Little Stranger". Each reader will decide whether or not there is an actual haunting at Hundreds Hall and as I have an aversion to giving away plot and will not go the spoiler alert route here is where my descriptions of the action and the characters ends. As for the other ghosts? The Ayers family is haunted by their past riches, snobbery, lost ambitions and the illusions they had about themselves. Dr Faraday is haunted by his own failures and the spector of the incoming National Health Service which could cost him his hard won rise in social standing.

Sarah Waters is always a great storyteller and always challenging herself. She has mastered the intricately plotted Victorian novel, the Merlin-esque ending to the beginning construction of "The Night Watch" and here the ghost story. Ghost stories follow a form. An innocent taken over by malevolence with an operatic finale. "The Little Stranger" does not marry itself completely to that template. Sarah Waters has not written a make you jump tale of terror. She has written a restrained, controlled, creepily suggestive novel about all kinds of hauntings. In fact the grand finale of the novel we are not even witness to. It takes place off stage with no witnesses and is all the more unsettling for that.

There are also touches of other classic things here like "Great Expectations" and "Rebecca" but don't think that this is not a unique work for all of the trappings. This is a sublime novel by a gifted writer that I discovered, sort of...

By Andrew Sheppard 28 Jan 2010 4

This book was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize and, who knows, if Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall had not also been around, it might have won. The story is narrated by a doctor, who candidly tells us of his professional and unprofessional conduct in relation to a family of down-at-heel landed gentry and their once splendid house. There are problems; he tries to help, but matters get out of hand, it seems of their own accord. Things go bump in the night; paper self-ignites; the sanity of the young scion of the family is called into question, as is the truthfulness of the maid; the family dog unaccountably savages a visiting child.... The ever-deepening mystery of who or what is up to what, and why, is painted against a background of social tension between the immediate post World War 2 English upper class, the new middle class (of which the doctor is representative), the nouveau riche, and those who build and live in council houses. Sarah Walters writes well and readers will experience no difficulty in placing these events in imagination in any park-set country house known to themselves.

Editorial reviews

A sinister ancestral hoe in an advanced state of decay, a family terrorized by its own history, and a narrator drawn into these orbits dominate this creepy novel from Waters (The Night Watch, 2006, etc.).Shortly after the end of World War II, and nearly 30 years after first seeing magnificent Hundreds Hall as an awestruck ten-year-old, hardworking Doctor Faraday is summoned to the now-shabby Warwickshire estate to treat a young housemaid's illness. Widowed Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, crippled and traumatized by injuries sustained during his wartime tenure as a RAF pilot, and bluff, pleasant daughter Caroline quickly accept Faraday as a friend, and he is initially enchanted by the family's stoical perseverance as Hundreds Hall falls into ruin and farmlands are sold to pay off mounting debts. But worse awaits: The family's gentle dog Gyp unaccountably and severely bites a visiting young girl, and neither Faraday's continuing professional ministrations nor his growing love for plucky Caroline can save these reclusive prewar relics from the supernatural presences seemingly arisen from their past. Waters' scrupulously engineered plot builds efficiently to a truly scary highpoint halfway through her long narrative. But tensions relax perilously, as the doctor's repeated emergency visits to Hundreds Hall become almost risibly indistinguishable, and even crucial dramatic moments are muffled by fervent conversations among the four major characters. Furthermore, too many crucial pieces of information are relayed secondhand, as Faraday summarizes accounts of other people's experiences. Still, Waters has extended her range agreeably, working in traditions established by Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan le Fanu and Wilkie Collins, expertly teasing us with suggestive allusions to the classics of supernatural fiction. A subtle clue planted in one character's given name neatly foreshadows, then explains, the Ayres family's self-destructive insularity.Flawed but nevertheless often gripping thriller from one of the most interesting novelists at work today. (Kirkus Reviews)