I did it! I finally read Sarah Waters' novel, The Little Stranger. I've had that book on my shelf for ages and didn't think I was ever going to get to it. Thankfully, I read about The Estella Society's RIP Read-a-long of The Little Stranger and knew it was time to finally give it a read. And suffice it to say, I am so happy I read Waters' book - it was fantastic!
Here's a summary of the novel:
One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive 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. Its owners - mother, son, and daughter - are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well with conflicts of their own. 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.
After reading that, how could you not want to check out this book, huh? Believe you me, you will not be disappointed. Now, I'm going to be honest and admit that this book is very slow going - I mean slower than slow. Seriously, the waxing and waning about the house's decrepit state goes on for pages, and yet, you can't help but find it all interesting. Not just because Hundreds (the house) is a character as much as Dr. Faraday or any of the Ayres, its because Waters is that good of a writer. She is hands down one of the best writers I've ever read. She could spend a whole chapter describing how to roast a chicken and I would read it (not just because I want a new recipe on how to roast a chicken, but also because I know she would make it sound so interesting). And its not just the writing that is excellent, but it is also the buildup of suspense at discovering who 'the little stranger' is.
Now, instead of writing several paragraphs that just gush about the brilliant writing, I'm going to jot down the main reasons I loved this novel and think that everyone should read it. Here goes:
- The writing is honestly the BEST! You will get so caught up in the stories, characters, mood and spookiness (not that there is much of it) that you will not be able to stop reading until you get to the end. You will find yourself rooted to your seat with this unputdownable book, all the while drinking copious amounts of coffee to keep you awake so that you can finish before you have to get to work the next morning (which is precisely what I did and it was so worth it!).
- The story is fascinating. This doctor gets caught up in the family dramas of the Ayres' family - who happen to live at Hundreds Hall, a house his mother once worked at. It is also a house that appears to be haunted. Strange things begin to happen to the Ayres - misplaced items, writing on the wall, scorch marked walls, floating objects, and incessant tapping. Hmmm. Could it be a ghost? Or could it be stress? Dr. Faraday seems to think its the latter, because after all he is a man of science, not ghost stories. Anyhow, as the doctor gets to know the family, he becomes rather obsessed with their house and manages to find a way to ingratiate himself further into their fold.
- The characters are interesting and unforgettable (and yes, that includes the house). Dr. Faraday seems like an okay chap in the beginning, so much so, that you pretty much consider him to be reliable and honest. However, his character starts to crumble as he becomes more and more obsessed with the Hundreds. I mean it - the man becomes crazed! As for the Ayres - ugh! I can't really stand any of them. The mother is too entrenched in the past to realize that society is a-changing and she's got to hop on board. Her daughter, Caroline, is rather a handsome woman who treks around their property in boots and misshapen skirts - her life revolves around her dog, Gyp. As for Roderick, the man of the house, he can be found limping around the property griping about the amount of money needed to keep the house running. All three are lost in their own world up at their home, that it almost seems as if time stands still at the Hundreds. Their live-in maid, Betty, is a young girl who is afraid of the house and its dark staircases - she's pretty vocal about the spookiness of the house from the beginning, but Faraday shoots her down. All in all, its a cast of characters that are stereotypical in some ways, but original in others. I found them all to be rather unlikeable, and even more so as the book progressed - yet, I couldn't help but wish them freedom from their home (which seemed bent on destroying the Ayres) and some sort of happiness.
- The gothic-ness of the novel was great, because it really did add an air of spookiness to the whole story. We had a bit of romance with Dr. Faraday and Caroline, which was not unexpected, considering there really wasn't anyone else for him or her to date. Of course, their relationship is fraught more with downs than ups. Like the incident in the car, when it seems as if Faraday is more of a monster than a gentleman. I have to admit I didn't expect that sort of behavior from him at all. And then there is the horror aspect of the book, which is more creepy than anything else. It happens unexpectedly, which I suppose in a way is a connection to Faraday's unexpected behavior. Hmmm. (Gee, am I hinting at something). Anyhow, the scorch marks on the wall and the ringing telephone with breathing at the end of the line are all detailed as we begin to learn more and more about the house that seems to weigh heavily on Faraday's mind. Reading the bits about people getting locked in rooms, or furniture moving by itself was actually quite thrilling. It gave me the creeps, but didn't scare me. I found it added an element of suspense to the novel, because you wanted to find out what was making these things happen.
- The ending when you find out who 'the little stranger' is - WOW! I sort of guessed who it was from the beginning, just because his OBSESSION with the house surpassed his feelings about anyone or anything else and that made it pretty obvious to me. Anyhow, I was still shocked when Dr. Faraday was revealed as 'the little stranger.' Its pretty crazy what the mind can make happen - making a lazy old dog bite a child, driving a young man mad, and getting others to commit suicide (which after discovering who was behind it all, I'm going to consider those suicides to be murders). I still can't get over Faraday - what a lunatic! To be that obsessed with a house that was never yours - WTF! And, of course, thanks to Faraday's psychic (more like psycho) manifestations he was able to drive everyone from the Hundreds and wind up being the only person caring for the house. INSANE, but brilliant!
On a side note, this book will count as one of the four I will be reading for R.I.P. VII - hurrah!