Monday, 1 June 2009
The Little Stranger
I have been hesitating over writing this review because I am loath to admit, even to myself, how disappointing I found The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I was warned but I still hoped and the hype I created for myself was perhaps my own downfall. Not since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have I anticipated a book being published and counted down the days. The anticipation of the book was exciting but the reality of the book itself a disappointment.
From the dust-jacket: "In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand 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 entwined with his.
Prepare yourself. From this wonderful writer who continues to astonish us, now comes a chilling ghost story."
Its premise is intriguing but it doesn't live up to the expectation. My problem is that I wasn't terrified or chilled or felt much in way of suspense and there was no resolution but an ending that was anti-climactic. I can see what Waters was attempting to achieve, a haunting story that defied an explanation or one that was solely rational or supernatural, but in the end I didn't care which and felt that she didn't either; it was almost as if she couldn't make up her mind and gave up without falling on either side, her ending too subtle. Her arguments for the rational were dry at times and Dr Faraday's scientific approach irritating. All in all, I didn't care for any of the characters much as they weren't likeable. I did enjoy how she anthromorphised Hundreds Hall and ultimately it was the only character I remotely identified and even symathised with.
I admire Waters' writing and her skills as a historian -the era is evoked well, as are the class distinctions- but the plot was too linear and simplistic for me and I would have been more forgiving if there had been a twist in the end. I appreciate that Sarah Waters is experimenting with new periods and new forms -as is her right- but I think that she was too bogged down in ghost story tropes to actually achieve a successful one herself. After reading The Woman in Black so recently, The Little Stranger paled in comparison, and not from fear.
For a digested account of The Little Stranger, this is amusing (beware explicit spoilers).
eta: my redux post of this book can be read here.