Riverhead Books, New York, 2009
Borrowed from the library. This book was on the short list for the 2009 Man Booker prize.
This is my second Sarah Waters novel. It is very much a ghost story, dark and dense with atmosphere, the type of writing Waters excels at.
In 1940’s England Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid, is called to Hundreds Hall, a fine old manor in the countryside. But the Doctor finds the residence of the Ayres family is falling into disrepair.
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 at the lovely room was slightly spoiled. Perhaps it was the peasant blood in me, rising. But Hundred Hall had been made and maintained, I thought, by the very people they were laughing at now. After two hundred years, those people had begun to withdraw their labour, their belief in the house; and the house was collapsing like a pyramid of cards. Meanwhile, here the family sat, playing gaily at gentry life, with the chipped stucco on their walls, and their Turkey carpets worn to the weave, and their riveted china…from page 25.
Mrs. Ayres, daughter Caroline, and son Roderick are losing control of the land and the house around them. Roderick, wounded in the war, is trying to manage the house and the farm, and with his failing health, is not doing too well. Or is it more than his health that is causing this failure? As the tension builds within this family and within this house, unexplained things begin to happen. Dr. Faraday finds himself deeply involved with an outcome he couldn’t possible have expected. As with Fingersmith it is hard to say more without giving too much away.
In many ways the novel’s tension reminds me of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James but the time period and the war add a disheveled, chaotic element to the story. There is the tension in the traditional ideas of class that are slowly dissolving around these characters, and certain elements of family history that add to the haunted feel of the novel. The house takes on a life of its own, it begins to feel alive. Waters skill at characterization shines, her characters are alive, she has uncovered their fears and fantasies. She is a master at drawing out the intricacies of human thought and emotion, of getting inside her characters heads.
I liked The Little Stranger. It is a creepy, chilling tale. I will read more of Waters’ novels in the future.
Did you read and review this book?