Three Things I Learned from The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger Cover

The first thing I’ll say about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is, if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this isn’t the book for you. If on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to, then, by all means, grab the book.

As readers, we come in with expectations. And I’m no different. I was expecting a ghost story. But making my way through Dr. Faraday’s narrative as he told of a house taking a terrible toll on the family living there, I came to appreciate the author’s approach. There are three things in particular I admire.

There Are Many Sources of Evil

Usually, stories of the paranormal have at their heart a ghostly presence that is typically vengeful, or they involve a demonic entity. What Sarah Waters has done is to introduce another kind of evil—something unnamed and possibly born from a person’s emotions—hate and envy, for example.

Make no mistake, though. Such a thing comes into being just as deadly. And those emotions embodied in an invisible entity can kill or, at best, drive a person mad. Unfortunately, at least one of the family suffers the latter fate.

Medicine Can’t Cure Everything

When Faraday decides to help the Ayres family, he applies everything he knows about medicine and science. He is diligent and caring. And he’s lonely. Just as there are things in Hundreds Hall he cannot cure—as much as he wants to—there are things in himself he cannot confront. And perhaps, the melding of these two poignant truths bring together the greatest tragedy.

In the End, It All Comes Down to Class

The Little Stranger is very much about post-war England and about how the well-to-do families of the former empire are no longer able to sustain themselves. Collectively, their wealth had been chipped away for a long time, much as their land was, with, as in the case of the Ayres family, vast tracts being converted to affordable housing for the masses.

Faraday is keenly aware of his station. His mother was a maid in Hundreds Hall and, even though he carries the title of Doctor, he doesn’t feel he commands the respect he deserves. Added to that, the National Health Service is coming, potentially eroding his income and position even further.

Everything in England is changing. And perhaps, Hundreds Hall is meant to disintegrate, along with a privileged way of life. Don’t expect answers from this book. In the end, there are only more questions. And you may be mulling them over for a long time after.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

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