Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

littlestrangerI read this book out loud to my girlfriend over the course of several months. The slow reading pace was nice, because the plot moves along at an easy pace. The novel is character-driven and hauntingly atmospheric; creepy, but not scary; heavy, but not depressing.

In The Little Stranger, the upper class is in decline in post-WWII Britain. For the remainder of the Ayres family–Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, Roderick and Caroline–whose family have lived in Hundreds Hall for two hundred years, the maintenance of their once-grand mansion is becoming too difficult. Roderick has returned from war physically scarred. Mrs. Ayres remains in mourning for her first daughter, who died as a child. And it looks as though Caroline will never find–or, indeed, want–a husband.

When Dr. Faraday first enters Hundreds Hall, it is to see the Ayres’s new maid, Betty, who is complaining of stomach troubles. Soon Dr. Faraday is spending a lot of time at Hundreds–first to treat Roderick’s scarred leg, and then simply because he has grown to like the family. Soon, however, the Ayreses begin to decline psychologically. Is it a symptom of the war? The changing society? Or is there something more sinister–something supernatural–at work at Hundreds?

The Little Stranger keeps you guessing throughout. The novel is subtle, and the action (if it can really be called that) builds slowly to a chilling ending.

The only thing I found disappointing about The Little Stranger was the lack of Sarah Waters’s usual cast of lesbian characters, but that’s just me. Overall, an excellent read for those who enjoy atmospheric character studies of novels.

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