Skip to main content

Review: The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters


Pages: 510

Original date of publication: 2009

My edition: 2010 (Riverhead)

Why I decided to read: an impulse purchase

How I acquired my copy: impulse purchase at Borders in the Philadelphia airport, December 2010

How on earth have I never gotten around to reading this book before this? I feel as though I’m the last person in the book blogosphere to read and review this book! Other reviewers have said enough on the plot of the book; I really don’t know if I have anything to add to it. I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Waters!

The description of the book says that it’s a ghost story; but this book goes far beyond that, in my opinion. Sure, there’s a hint of the supernatural in this story (although it’s never fully realized, nor does this story line come to a satisfying conclusion), but it’s much more a work of historical fiction that takes a look at the breakdown in the social hierarchy in the years just after WWII. Roderick Ayres is the “squire,” owner of an 18th century mansion that has fallen on hard times; Dr. Faraday, on the other hand, is the son of a housemaid who has nonetheless managed to do moderately well for himself (although the reader detects a fair amount of bitterness from him towards those who are better off than he is, mixed with enviousness and the desire to be socially acceptable). At the beginning of the story, there’s a clear distinction between the two (Dr. Faraday is treated much the same way as the housemaid is treated); but as the Ayres family falls, the lines between the classes are blurred. Sarah Waters’s treatment of her subject is very deftly, subtly handled, but she gets her point across very well.

The ghost story aspect was a little more frustrating for me, especially since, as I’ve said, this part of the story gets abandoned for other, more interesting things. The supernatural stuff is creepy, but it’s not really the focus of this novel.

I also loved Sarah Waters’s descriptions of her characters, something she appears to do very well. Each one is fully developed, even Dr. Faraday, who’s a bit of a wet blanket sometimes, and not totally compelling as a narrator. He was also frustratingly obtuse at times, which is not something I particularly care for in a narrator who’s supposed to be a) observant and b) a doctor! My favorite character was Caroline (I’m laughing as I write this, because she’s the exact same age as I am, but she’s described as a spinster!). But as the novel reveals, each member of the Ayres family has his or her own particular weakness, which is brought to the forefront. I loved how Sarah Waters handles Roderick’s character, and his madness—or is it madness? Very well done.

Comments

Unknown said…
I haven't had the chance to read this one yet, but I loved her earlier book, Fingersmith. It was so well done - and they made it into movie too, which was surprisingly pretty good.
Aimee Burton said…
Welcome to the Sarah Waters fan club (it's fairly large)!

If you like The Little Stranger, you will adore Fingersmith (my personal favourite). But all her reads are completely above par.

-Aimee

http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/poisoned-apples-blog/
Mystica said…
This was very very good. Strange but good. Different but good!!!
JoAnn said…
I really enjoyed Fingersmith and Night Watch, but haven't gotten around to this one yet. I hope to soon...

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…