Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Little Stranger; A Novel by Sarah Waters

My book club picked this for its February read.  It's a big book at 463 pages for such a short month but it took me less than a week to read it and for me, that's pretty good.   It kept my interest and I rather enjoyed the lengthy English descriptions but I was left wanting.  Waters purposely never ties up the ends, which left me shaking my head.

The Little Stranger is a detailed story about an old house, Hundreds Hall,  and the Ayres family that lives within.  Our narrator, Dr.  Faraday, the son of a former nursemaid at the house, is called out to the house to examine a young maid and begins a relationship with the family members; Mrs. Ayres, her daughter, Caroline and her son, Roderick.  He's a country doctor who grew up in the village and visiting the house as an invited guest and doctor is a bit of thrill for him, even though the house has not weathered well.  Something about the family (and the house) intriuges him and he continues his visits to have tea, treating Roddie's war injuried leg and helping them through one catastrophe after another.  The house is driving the family members mad in one way or another and Dr. Faraday is like this outsider who has a front row seat to the show. 

This is where it gets a bit tricky.  Several incidents are described, leading readers to believe that the old mansion is haunted or cursed, which was creepy and exciting but never explained-just left me on the edge.  I wanted some loose ends tied up.  Part of the intrigue was that the house tormented each family member in a different way.  For Roderick, it played on his insecurities as a landowner/gentleman farmer.  For Mrs. Ayres, the mystery "ghost" was  Susan, the young daughter she had lost before Caroline and Roderick were born.  As for Caroline's haunt-I leave it a" mystery"-because that one left me more well, mystified than the others.  You'll have to read it for yourselves and post back to share your own explanations. 
And  Dr. Faraday has some odd pull to the house which did make me wonder once or twice if he was somehow involved. Why does the house never bother him?

Tomorrow night is our book club meeting and I look forward to discussing this story with everyone.  I sometimes try and bring a food item to match with the book.  Last month I brought Baking Soda Biscuits to share for The Widow of the South discussion but this book they don't dwell on food much-they do drink a lot of tea and cakes but that didn't seem as fun to me.  I purchased a copy of this from Alibris (a bargain @ $4.00)...just because the library copies were checked out (probably by other members of my bookclub) and PBS didn't have it listed.    The book now resides on my husband's side of the bed.  Creepy and mysterious is right up his alley. 

Did I like the book? Yes.
Was I creeped out?  Yes, making it tough to read at bedtime.
I disliked the ending.  My only issue.
What I enjoyed?  The characters and the historical aspect.
Learning more about the class system in England kept me riveted:

Here's a quote:

The story ran on, Caroline and Roderick prompting more of it; they spoke to each other rather than to me, and, shut out of the game, I looked from mother to daughter to son and finally caught the likenesses between them, not just the similarities of feature-the long limbs, the high-set eyes-but the almost clannish little tricks of gesture and speech.  And I felt a flicker of impatience with them-the faintest stirring of a dark dislike-and my pleasure in the lovely room was slightly spoiled.  Perhaps it was the peasant blood in me, rising.  But Hundreds Hall has been made and maintained, I thought, by the very people they were laughing at now. (25)

Sarah Waters website

Other interesting thoughts on the book:
Wordsmithonia's review
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore...
Things mean a lot...

Have you read other books by Sarah Waters?  I did enjoy her style.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Glad you liked it and am curious what your group thinks as well. I do have this on my Kindle (unread).

Ryan said...

I actually liked the ending, though if I would have wanted it tweeked, I would have liked Dr. Faraday to meet a bad end as well. It's just the meanie in me.

I'm glad you liked this one. It is one of my favorite books read this year.