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The postwar era wasn't generally a good time for the "great houses" of England or the noble families that lived in them. Brothers, sons, and tenant farmers were lost or injured; cash flow lessened accordingly. Wartime rationing lasted much longer in Britain after WWII, until 1950, making it hard to throw a grand party. Servants were hard to find, since many young people began to opt instead for the higher pay (and less classist treatment) of factory jobs. The Little Stranger is nominally a ghost story: one of the "ghosts" is the old way of life.
So if you're looking for a Stephen King-style scarefest, this isn't it. The Little Stranger is a creepy, modern gothic tale, in the tradition of The Woman in White or Rebecca, with perhaps a bit of Wuthering Heights thrown in.
Just after WWII, Dr. Faraday has his own practice in the English countryside, near where he grew up. His patients are ordinary country people, but the great house of his district, Hundreds Hall, has long held his imagination. When he is called to the house to examine a servant, Betty, he's sad to find circumstances much reduced. The house has just three residents--the Widow Ayres and her son and daughter--and Betty is the only servant left.
Still curious about the house, he tends to Betty and then has tea with the Ayreses. So begins a friendship that might have been better left unforged. As things go bad over the course of the following year, Dr. Faraday tells us of a house that's as expensive and troublesome as it is grand. In fact, it seems to be less than fond of its residents--and it's got a mind of its own.
This is not a fast-paced story. Instead, tensions build as Dr. Faraday describes the terrible events at Hundreds Hall. We hear a great deal about how helpful he is: Mrs. Ayres, in particular, is constantly mentioning how wonderful he's been to the family, and how much she values his friendship as he makes tough decisions on their behalf.
Part of the joy of this book, therefore, is imagining a different perspective--are things really as Dr. Faraday tells us they are? Another part is the fantastic narration by Simon Vance, who's done a great job on everything from David Copperfield to the latest Terry Brooks novel. (Vance may sound pompous--but just remember, he's acting!)
No shrouded figures are seen; no skeletons dance in the drawing room, and no monsters are hiding under the beds. But I have to say that the end of this story is one of the most chilling I've read recently--and that's coming from somebody who reads a lot of scary stuff! Highly recommended for fans of the Victorian Gothic genre: The Little Stranger has everything you're craving and more.
25 of 25 people found this review helpful
A leisurely pleasant start to this book, for me the equivalent of turning on the TV and seeing the opening credits of a black-and-white movie made in Britain circa WWII: an old manor house looms into view, cut to interior, a young woman looking out the window as rain pelts the glass. BTW, this is not a scene from the book or from any particular movie. It's meant more to describe the feelings such a beginning evokes in me. From the first words (read wonderfully by Simon Vance), I wanted to brew a pot of tea and butter some toast before retreating to an overstuffed chair in front of a glowing fireplace to enjoy this subtly eerie tale.
The first four chapters held my interest well. By the end of the fifth chapter I was suitably chilled to the point that I required the company of two small dogs: I just couldn't be alone at this point. That night, as I lay in bed listening, I had to add a "magic blanket" to the mix. (You know, the type of blanket that prevents unseen hands from grabbing your feet or lightly running a finger up your spine.)
Sarah Waters' prose, her exacting choice of words, has an understated charm, nothing flashy that distracted me as I listened. If you like books/movies such as 'The Uninvited' or 'Rebecca,' you will not be disappointed by 'The Little Stranger.'
32 of 33 people found this review helpful