Monday, October 11, 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I've fallen woefully behind in updating on my Meatless Month Challenge, but it's now finished and I'm trying to catch up with my posts.  The rest of the month's meatless meals, as well as other food posts, are forthcoming.  But now I'd like to tell you about Sarah Water's book, The Little Stranger.

There was a considerable amount of buzz about this book, particularly in the author's native England, when it was published due to its consideration for the Man Booker prize.  I just finished reading it this afternoon and it's the kind of book which, as soon as you've finished reading it, you feel you simply must discuss it with someone.

Dr Faraday, a family doctor in Post World War II rural England, is called out to Hundreds Hall one day to examine the Ayres' family servant, a young girl named Betty.  The doctor suspects there is little wrong with Betty, save a touch of homesickness, but she confides in him that the house spooks her.

Following this episode with Betty, Dr Faraday befriends the Ayres family and enmeshes himself into their lives as their estate falls to disrepair and some troubling and strange occurrences continue happening to the family.

**Spoiler alert!  Read no further if you don't want to be spoiled!**

Waters' writing evokes the era in which it was written and she creates the bleak, rationed Post-War life in which England's traditional class structure was breaking down.  The book is eerie, spooky, and difficult to put down.  The ending seems ambiguous at first - is there truly a ghost or ghosts haunting Hundreds Hall?  Is it a poltergeist, as Dr Seeley suggests?  If so, who is responsible for the poltergeist's activities?  Is there an Ayres family curse? 

The more I think about the book and read other (probably more astute) blogs that have posts on The Little Stranger, the more strongly I am led to believe that it is Dr Faraday himself who is behind the family troubles and tragedies.  Beginning with his theft of the little acorn he prised from the wall as a child, he has longed to be a part of Hundreds Hall.  As his relationship with the family grows, he becomes obsessed with the idea of having Hundreds as his own.  Exactly how he "made" things happen, or whether he's fully responsible for Mrs Ayres' haunting, the smudges in the rooms, or the 'Sss' on the walls, I'm not certain.  But there's no doubt in my mind that Faraday, whether in physical person or just in malevolent spirit, caused the death of Caroline.

I also wonder: did the family feel as fondly for Faraday as he thought?  It's difficult to say, as the story is told from his perspective.  As he proves himself to be an unreliable narrator as the book progresses, I'm thinking he sees them as he'd like to be, a part of the family, rather than as they see him - a nice enough, probably lonely fellow.

I very rarely reread fiction books, but I just might with this one.  If you've read it, please add some of your own thoughts.  The Little Stranger is a book that begs for good discussion.

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