The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger

Book rating: 04 Paperback Virago Press

By (author) Sarah Waters

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  • Publisher: Virago Press Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 512 pages
  • Dimensions: 127mm x 198mm x 33mm | 404g
  • Publication date: 1 April 2010
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 1844086062
  • ISBN 13: 9781844086061
  • Sales rank: 866

Product description

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.

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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 Lisa Preston 12 Feb 2012 5

A crumbling manor housing & an English family in decline physically, emotionally & financially & spiritually. Those residing within the 'Hundreds' manse appear to be lead to madness and/or suicidality. Is something malevolent lurking within the walls or is the house just echoing the decay of a family & its concomitant genetic imperative? The local doctor & household staff play admirably, & quite differently, off the family's fears. Who will you believe?

By Susan Wight 08 Sep 2010 3

The Little Stranger is a gothic tale of haunted house, reminiscent of Rebecca. The Ayers family are clinging to their family mansion, Hundreds Hall, in post war England in a hostile economic and political climage. We meet them through the local doctor, Dr Faraday (like Mrs de Winter, we are never told his first name) who attends their maid and subsequently strikes up a friendship with the family. Gradually we come to know them and to realise all is not well at Hundreds Hall. When an evening party goes horribly wrong, nothing will ever be the same for the family as they each become more involved in the strange happenings at the house. Will the family overcome whatever is wrong in the house and will Dr Faraday prove immune?
The pace and mystery are enjoyable but I found the ambiguous ending unsatisfactory. Worth a read.

By Joseph Camilleri 11 Mar 2010 5

Sarah Waters's latest novel - the Booker-shortlisted The Little Stranger - is a haunted house story set in rural Warwickshire in the years just following the Second World War. Its protagonists are the Ayreses - Roderick, a young man who runs the family estate, his unmarried sister Caroline and their widowed mother. They are the last descendants of a once-distinguished stock whose fortunes are now in as ruinous a state as Hundreds Hall, the crumbling mansion they live in. Their already precarious existence is thrown into further disarray when unexplained events start taking place at the Hall and nights are disturbed by strange sounds and moving objects. Are the Ayreses simply delusional or are there more sinister forces at work?

Waters' novels tend to be strong on plot and this one is no exception. The narrator is a country doctor who befriends the Ayres family and Waters appropriately adopts a rather bland, matter-of-fact voice. This leaves little space for striking turns of phrase and for the first hundred pages or so the novel is slow-moving and rather bland. When the frights begin however they are doubly effective. The book starts to cast its spell, drawing the reader into its folds as, inexorably, scare follows scare up to a stylishly ambiguous ending. There is plenty to enjoy along the way, not least the psychological complexities of the narrator and the impeccable evocation of a post-war England torn between nostalgia for a vanishing past and a more or less wary acceptance of new social realities.

Though it might not beat Fingersmith which, in my opinion, remains the best of Waters' works so far, I would heartily recommend The Little Stranger as a gripping new classic of the gothic genre.

Review quote

'It's a gripping story, with beguiling characters ... As well as being a supernatural tale, it is a meditation on the nature of the British and class, and how things are rarely what they seem. Chilling' Kate Mosse, The Times, Summer Read 'Waters writes with a firm, confident hand, deftly building an atmosphere that begins in a still, hot summer and gradually darkens and tightens until we are as gripped by the escalating horror as the Ayres are. She is particularly good at depicting Hundreds, the dilapidated Georgian pile that dazzles ... Waters' persistent picking apart of class is fascinating' Tracy Chevalier, Observer 'By now readers must be confident of her mastery of storytelling ... While at one turn, the novel looks to be a ghost story, the next it is a psychological drama ... But it is also a brilliantly observed story, verging on the comedy, about Britain on the cusp of modern age ... The writing is subtle and poised' Joy lo Dico, Independent on Sunday 'Displaying her remarkable flair for period evocation, Waters recreates backwater Britain just after the Second World War with atmospheric immediacy ... Acute and absorbing' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times 'Waters is often described as a brilliant storyteller, and so she is. But she is also an artist compelled to experiment ... Waters gives herself a sort of handicap with the dull doctor's narration. This indirectness, which in cruder hands might have led to yawning insurrection in the reader, becomes essential to the novels unsettling power' Claudia Fitzherbert, Daily Telegraph 'It would be unfair to reveal very much about The Little Stranger: enough to say that this reader, left along one night in her boxy Seventies ex-council house ? about as unspooky a place as you can image ? had to stop reading for fright. This is an effective, gripping book. Sarah Waters' ability to evoke the 1940s shows the same mastery she displaying in The Night Watch, and her descriptive powers are nearly unparalleled ... Waters has sat herself down in front of a roaring fire and determined to scare the pants off her rightly devoted audience. In that she succeeds unequivocally. You'll want to sleep with the light on' Erica Wagner, The Times 'Alongside episodes of memorable horror, class is the most interesting element of The Little Stranger ... Waters stages a superb depiction of the menace of inanimate objects ... Ambitious and original' Sean O'Brien, TLS 'The horrors are brilliantly orchestrated, and rise effortlessly in scale and explicitness ... Waters knows what she is about, and the novels interests are only partly in the supernatural and the ghost story ... Waters has used the formal and conventional tactics of fiction ? the stiffer, the better ? to examine a read human situation ...The fascination of The Little Stranger lies in its unnerving evocation of place and time. It is a beautiful and expert divertissement' Philip Hensher, Spectator 'Water serves up a truly frightening scene in the deserted nursery ... As I lay in bed after finishing reading it, running the various elements through my mind, a fox screamed outside my window and I nearly had a heart attack' Suzi Feay, Literary Review 'Sarah Waters has, quite singlehandedly, at this late date, renewed the whole genre of the spooky gothic novel. Quite a feat' David Sexton, Evening Standard 'The knowledge that something nasty is around the corner lends the narrative a compelling sense of unease. At the same time, the richness of Waters' writing ensures that the air of thickening dread is very thick indeed ... Waters is a brave writer. The Little Stranger is an engrossing, hugely enjoyable read with set pieces guaranteed to make anyone with a pulse gibber in fright' John Preston, Sunday Telegraph 'Sarah Waters' masterly novel is a perverse hymn to decay, to the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by war ... (Waters has) a perfect understanding of her period ... She deploys the vigour and cunning one finds in Margaret Atwood's fiction, the same narrative ease and expansiveness, and the same knack of twisting the tension tighter and tighter within an individual scene ... The Little Stranger operates in the queasy borderlands between the supernatural and the psychopathological, and it is territory in which Waters moves with an air of supreme ease ... It is gripping, confident, unnerving and supremely entertaining ... Its allusions, its implications softly gather and fold themselves into the space in the mind that the book has made for itself, falling into place with a soft hiss, a rustle like phantom silks' Hilary Mantel, Guardian 'A spine-tingler ... Waters skilfully ratchets up the suspense as events at Hundreds grow ever more highly charged ? even downright chilling' Amber Pearson, Daily Mail 'This is more than a detective and/or ghost story. It is also a study of post-war Britain ... Social document; intriguing detective yarn; chilling ghost story, romance or thriller, The Little Stranger is a marvellous read on so very many levels' Christine Dwyer Hickey, Irish Times

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)