A Ghost Story To Keep You Awake At NightNovember 1, 2011 No Comments
Although a historical novel, The Little Stranger veers away from the genre Sarah Waters is often cited for. This isn’t lesbian fiction, but like lesbian fiction it focuses on a complex network of relationships which land firmly outside the status quo for the time.
It’s also a ghost story, and a good one. There’s no gore, but a creepy building of chill, dark and loneliness as the characters tumble deeper into poverty and social isolation. The author also employs the trick of distorting ordinary and familiar objects, so that small markings on a wall become inexplicable and terrifying.
The setting of the novel, both in time and place, is compelling. A crumbling Warwickshire house in a country wrecked by war and a formerly wealthy family whose previous class status is no longer relevant.
The characters are well-developed, believable people with strong interpersonal connections. The skilled weaving of character and relationships of unglamorous single woman Caroline, her traumatized brother and peculiar mother, and class misfit Dr Faraday who is drawn into their lives gains ground as the four people become less guarded and more dependent on one another.
Waters’ believable use of old technology in the book adds authenticity, as do the brief interactions with others in the village. The role of Betty, the family maid, as well as Dr Faraday’s medical colleagues, give relief from the oppressive house and its supposed poltergeist as they consume the Ayres family.
I found the post-war landscape and class juxtaposition totally believable in this novel, as well as the increasingly wretched characters as they crumbled along with their house. As a ghost story it works brilliantly; I had two sleepless nights while reading it.
Another achievement of the novel, apart from making me shine a torch into my wardrobe at 3am, is that I was drawn in by Dr Faraday. I’m generally more attached to female characters in novels, particularly in novels written by women. Dr Faraday was a complex construction. As a narrator he becomes increasingly unreliable, and I found myself more interested in his fate than that of Caroline, who I initially identified with.
Roderick subverts the notion of male protector, while the the frail Mrs Ayres surprises us all. Caroline and Dr Faraday play out an awkward, sometimes exhausting partnership which left me questioning both characters.
A wonderful Halloween novel, to be read on dark and spooky nights. Preferably during stormy weather, in a Georgian mansion if you have one.
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