Friday, July 30, 2010

Review of The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger is a ghost story, and like all good ghost stories, it was perfectly creepy. It was even scary enough at one point that I put the book down for the night and decided to read the rest of the chapter in the light of day. Usually I don't like mysteries or thrillers because I always want to know who dunnit and don't have the patience to read through the whole book to find out. But The Little Stranger isn't your typical mystery. There is no major crime or murder that takes place at the beginning, but instead a slow build of misery and torment that subtly takes over the lives of the main characters.

The story is set in post-war small-town England. Dr. Faraday (we never learn his first name) is a country doctor who has managed to cobble together a small practice that keeps him busy and in business. He is from a poor family, and although he managed to become a doctor, he is still of the 'other' class, not in the same echelon as the Ayers family. The Ayers own Hundreds Hall, a huge estate out in the country that has been in their family since the 1700s. Dr. Faraday's mother was once a servant there, and he has vivid memories of visiting Hundreds as a little boy and marveling at the grandeur and beauty of the mansion, so much so that he once secretly pried a little piece of molding off the wall to keep as his own. But in 1947, Hundreds is on the decline. Mr. Ayers has died, leaving Mrs. Ayers and their two grown children, Roderick and Caroline, to care for the estate. When Dr. Faraday arrives at the house in response to a medical call, he is shocked by its decline and dilapidated state. In many ways, he takes it personally, even though he has no reason to, as his connection to the estate is far removed. In the coming year he establishes a close relationship with the family as their doctor, and it is during this time that strange things start to occur at Hundreds. The events start off small -- changes in behaviors of Hundreds' inhabitants, bizarre sounds and noises, smudges on the walls that weren't there before. But as the year progresses, the house takes a more serious toll on everyone who lives there, with tragic consequences for both the Ayers family and Dr. Faraday.

What I enjoyed most about The Little Stranger was the subtle progression of drama, fear and creepiness that, as a reader, you don't necessarily realize you're in the midst of until you find yourself glued to the pages and getting a little jumpy at sudden noises. Except for a couple of dramatic events (a fire and an inexplicably locked door), nothing in the book is absolutely terrifying, but instead it's the combination of all the little things that make the story scary. Waters also manages to weave in other themes of class and money that were (and are?) so much a part English life, and these play into how the characters deal with the strange events unfolding around them.

The story is told from Dr. Faraday's perspective, and as we get to the end of the book, several things are thrown into question, most notably Dr. Faraday's narration of the story itself. He is the epitome of the 'unreliable narrator', and this made the last chapter quite riveting, because the reveal is not what you expect.


No comments: