27 June 2010

Books: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009)

According to Wikipedia, Sarah Waters’ fifth novel, The Little Stranger, started out as a book about the economic changes brought by socialism in postwar Britain. Somewhere along the way, though, it became a ghost story as well.

Set in 1947, the novel is narrated by Doctor Faraday, a middle aged country doctor who is called to Hundreds Hall, an 18th Century estate that has seen its glory days long since past -and, ironically, Faraday’s mother was once a maid in the house. There he becomes involved with the Ayres family, Caroline, her brother Roderick and their mother, along with maid Betty. Faraday, thinking he can help Roderick with his badly healed wounds from World War II, becomes wrapped up in a gothic drama he does not see coming.

This ghost story is stylish and intelligent, and Waters writing abilities prevents the tale from becoming a cliche. Waters also tells a tale about the shift away -more or less- from the class struggle that permeated the centuries before, essential aspects of a these gothic, macabre novels. Here we see the Ayres family trying to stave off the inevitable - the true aspect that during this time period, impressive estates like Hundreds Hall where broken up, either turned into museums or bulldozed into suburbia - but continue to “pride themselves on living like the BrontĂ«s out there," someone observes.

The Little Stranger is, in the end, an old fashion ghost story with social commentary thrown in with large doses. Sarah Waters has a deft hand at creating this world, these characters, and her compelling style will make you want to continue reading when you should have longed turned off the light or gone back to work.

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