Hi everyone! Today I’m posting my review of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. I read about an upcoming film adaptation and thought the plot sounded interesting, so I figured I’d read the book before the movie comes out. Set in post-war, rural Warwickshire, our narrator is Dr Faraday who is called one day to Hundreds Hall to tend to a poorly maid. The Hall, once famous in the area for its grandeur, has fallen into a state of disrepair despite the efforts of its owners, the elderly Mrs Ayres and her children Caroline and Roderick. As the relationship between Faraday and the family develops, increasingly spooky and sinister happenings begin to occur at Hundreds Hall. Faraday attempts to provide rational answers to these events but the question remains – is the Hall haunted?
One of the things I really enjoyed about the novel was the blending of genres. In parts it was a psychological thriller, a ghost story, a (sort of) romance and a social commentary on the class system in Britain during this period. I think in another writer’s hands it could have been very muddled, but Waters weaves all these elements together beautifully. You could have a very tender or light-hearted scene then suddenly something horrible occurs. That contrast really makes the violence and destruction in those moments more vivid and memorable. It also helped to create a feeling of unease. You were never entirely sure what was happening, which is exactly how the characters feel. Waters made it very easy to empathise with them as you were experiencing similar emotions as they were.
Speaking of characters, I think Faraday is brilliantly portrayed. He is possibly my favourite character of 2017 so far. In a way I don’t want to talk about him too much for fear of spoilers, but I feel compelled to. His character development is so subtle and so wonderfully executed. He starts off as this very practical, logical man, an outsider to Hundreds Hall who has rational answers to the supposedly supernatural events. You feel drawn to him, because he is able to provide solutions so he alleviates some of the unease. You also learn a lot about his background which helps to make him relatable. Yet as the story progresses he becomes much more ambiguous. Several times I found myself asking, what is his actual motivation? Is he hiding something? Is he going mad? He becomes such an unreliable narrator that you never sure that what he is saying is correct. It feels like he sort of lures you in with this facade at the beginning, yet as the novel goes on it is like his mask is slipping, showing you his true self. I think Waters subtle portrayal of this was exceptional.
The Ayres family are also beautifully drawn. They felt like fully fleshed characters and didn’t slip into stereotype. I really felt for their plight as they attempt to salvage their home, despite knowing their actions are fruitless. In particular I really liked the character of Caroline. At times she seems a very confident young woman, very sure of herself and what she wanted out of life, yet Waters also lets us see her vulnerability. While I may not necessarily agreed with all the choices Caroline made, I understood the reasons behind them and still sympathised with her. Also her relationship with her brother is very sweet. You can tell that the relationship between Caroline and Roderick, despite all that happens in the story, is very loving and caring. It makes a nice change from Faraday who is a bit of a loner.
I loved The Little Stranger (if it wasn’t obvious from this review!) The characters are so well developed that you really care for them and can’t stop thinking about them after putting the book down. The slow build of suspense and mystery as well made it hard to stop reading. Waters does a brilliant job of building that tension, every act of violence being more shocking than the last, as well as juggling the character development. I don’t really want to say anymore, because I can imagine you’re probably sick of me banging on about this book and I think it’s better going into this story not knowing a lot about it. Go read and enjoy! Just maybe have a light on when you do…
The Little Stranger is published by Virago. For more information click here: https://www.sarahwaters.com/books/the-little-stranger/