The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters – Book Review

This month Allie (Hist-Fic Chick) and I are featuring Harrowing Historicals in our Month Long Celebration of All Hallows, in other words, books with a scary bent that were set before 1960.

Earlier in the year I read The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters for a discussion that I was having with Rebecca from The Book Lady’s Blog on her episode of That’s How I Blog! Set in the spooky manor of Hundreds Hall during 1940’s post-war Britain, The Little Stranger follows the exploits of Dr. Faraday as he becomes embroiled in the menacing familial woes of the once wealthy Ayres family – elderly Mrs. Ayres and her adult children; Caroline, and Roger, a crippled war veteran.  A ghost story set against the backdrop of the disintegration of wealth and emerging class struggles, the story is immediately engrossing and superbly told.

This was my forst foray into Waters after years of collecting her novels.  I was happy that a nudge from Rebecca set this book firmly in my path, and the novel turned out to be one that I finished with a satisfying sigh.  It is one of the first books in quite some time that I wanted to start over again right away.  Waters deftly weaves the history of the Ayres family and the country physician who has always taken an interest in the comings and goings at Hundreds Hall, where his mother worked and where he once visited so memorably long before.

Waters is a fine observer of class behaviors and distinctions, and I loved the way that she covers the ambivalence, conflict, and tensions between Dr. Faraday and the family with whom he becomes intimately involved.  Each plays in questionable ways on the others’ vulnerabilities in the new and uncertain times, and the nerves and fever pitch that the strange happenings in the house add to the mix made for a smart, yet tricky compelling read.  As Waters masterfully dropped her pieces into place, I carefully considered the options presented in the story that she was telling, and looked over my shoulder to see what ghosts, real or imagined, were held by my own home.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Make sure you check out Allie’s review of Doomed Queens, yesterday’s Harrowing Historical.  Doomed Queens author Kris Waldherr also did a guest post for Allie and me on the ghost of Marie Antoinette.  Harrowing stuff! Kris also donated packs of her Doomed Queens Playing Cards and Ask the Queens Advice Deck for giveaway, which will be included in the some of the Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.

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  1. I so loved this book. It was my first Waters, and I was immediately hooked (it didn’t hurt that the audio was narrated by Simon Vance!). So glad to see it featured recently with all the RIP and spooky reads!

  2. Oh, this one sounds good! Perfect for a time when I’m in the mood for something a bit creepy.

  3. I just finished this book last night. I am sad to say I didn’t really appreciate it as much as everyone else. It was a bit slow for me, but I think that is because I went into it expecting it to be fast paced, as the other Waters books are that I have read, and The Little Stranger is not like that at all.

  4. I need to reread The Little Stranger. I’ve read all of Waters’s other books multiple times, except Affinity, and I really liked The Little Stranger the first time around. The woman knows how to create an atmosphere.

  5. I’ve got this sitting on a chair in my bedroom and I swear I can hear it calling to me all of the time to pick it up and read it! Sounds like I should listen.

  6. I have been wanting to read Sarah Waters for a long time. One of these days I will get to her books. Great review.

    1. This is the first Waters book that I read, so I loved it. I think it might have been a bit of a departure from her other works, so I think some who enjoyed those books liked this one less. I remember her saying at a reading that some were disappointed that she wrote a book so deeply concerned with straight characters. Very interesting.

  7. I’m definitely curious to read this one — Sarah Waters makes such unappealing and unlikable characters — which makes her stories all the more uncomfortable (and delicious)!

    1. You make a good point Audra. I can’t say that I liked anyone really, but they were so interesting that I felt compelled to keep reading, and she does a fabulous job with atmosphere. I just finished Turn of the Screw, which is along similar lines and really interesting in its ambiguity.

  8. Haven’r read this author yet, but hear so many wonderful things about her books. Maybe your review will be my nudge to pick up one of her works. Thanks Nicole.

  9. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this book. As usual, this tends to make me want to read it just to find out which side of the fence I fall on. Thanks for the post.


    Happy Halloween!