The Little Stranger - Book of the Month
by Sarah Waters
This latest page-tuner from Sarah Waters has got it all – a haunted house, a wacky upper-class family, a down to earth narrator and, as ever, acute historical and social insight.
The story is narrated by Dr Faraday, a staid country doctor, a local boy made good, whose self-sacrificing parents thought he should get on in the world. It’s two years after the end of the war and he is worried about the imminent new National Health Service. Faraday’s patients are mainly the rural poor so when he’s called to Hundreds Hall he thinks things are looking up, but it’s Betty the maid and not one of the Ayres family, the owners of Hundreds Hall, that requires his services. As it turns out Betty’s stomach-ache is a cry for help. Faraday points out to the Ayres that the fourteen year old, as the only live-in servant, is lonely and homesick and that she is troubled by “something not right” in the house. This is pooh-poohed by Faraday and the family, putting Betty firmly among the ranks of the servant class who shouldn’t have opinions and whose fears are the workings of a less evolved mind. This is reminiscent of Agatha Christie whose servants (if they didn’t turn out to be proper ladies fallen on hard times) were stupid and dull.
This is our, and Faraday’s, introduction to Hundreds Hall and the family who inhabit it. This once grand mansion, like Manderley in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, has a life of its own infused with memories, voices, presences. Mr Ayres has long-since died and the three remaining members of the family struggle to keep it going. Each has their own agenda; the son, Roderick, only in his early twenties, scarred physically and mentally from his wartime experiences in the RAF, struggles with the huge task of keeping up the family tradition and is forced (horror of horrors) to sell off land for the new social housing that is so badly needed – and eventually things take their toll. Caroline, the stoic of the family (and the only member, I feel, that one warms to) wants to get rid of it and get on with life, while the mother wants to keep alive memories of the past, including another child, taken from her too soon.
As Faraday gets more involved with the family he is drawn into the weird goings on in the house - but to say any more would be to give away too much. Suffice to say that this is a hugely entertaining, truly creepy story with a conclusion that will keep you thinking long after the last page. But, as ever, with a Sarah Waters book cleverly interwoven with the plot is an insightful historical and social look at the times and THE LITTLE STRANGER she subtly examines the state of the post-war nation, class bias and social reform.
Read our interview with Sarah Waters.