The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

DATE FINISHED: March 23rd, 2011

RATED: ** 

SYNOPSIS: Hundreds is a country manor going steadily into decline in the post-war years.  Its inhabitants, the Ayres family, believe that there is a sinister presence in the house, and the family doctor watches aghast as the family’s mental health declines as the house almost literally crumbles around them.  Is it a ghost at work, or something more human, or more sinister?

THOUGHTS: Exceedingly slow to get started, I found very little suspense in this novel.  The supernatural events were unconvincing, all relayed second hand by the doctor.  Was there ever an actual ghost?  Was the madness of the family wrought by the doctor’s distortion of events?  …I’m afraid by the end I just didn’t care!  I found the writing bland and lacking in the atmosphere of Waters’ earlier Victorian novels.  I concede that Waters successfully conveyed the frugality of the post-war years, and the class concerns of village life, but this did not help me to warm to or care about any of the characters.  But if you like dry, long-winded country house novels, you might get on okay.

FOLLOWING ON: The evocation of an era reminded me of Josephine Tey’s mysteries (such as ‘Brat Farrar’) but Tey’s work is far more character-driven and more interesting.  The unreliable narration reminded me of ‘A Cruel Madness’ by Colin Thubron (another far superior novel).  And the obvious comparison to draw is with Henry James’ ‘Turn of the Screw’, a novel I have never been especially fond of but at least has the advantage of being short!


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