Modern Lit: The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

House Calls

The Little Stranger is a deliciously creepy tale in which the star is a house, a grand but decrepit country estate in Warwickshire, England. The year is 1947, and in the aftermath of WWII, all of the English, rich and poor alike, are suffering through what today we like to call tough economic times. The story begins with a house call made by Dr. Faraday to Hundreds, the seat of the Ayres family for 200 years. The doctor, now middle aged, has misty memories of visiting Hundreds as a child with his mother, former nanny to the Ayres children, now all grown up and struggling desperately to hang on to their heritage. They befriend Faraday, to as close an extent as is possible between the upper and lower classes.

Little by little, strange little incidents are noticed, such as sooty smudges and childish graffiti appearing on the walls. Rod Ayres, the heir to the estate, begins to experience frightening, seemingly paranormal visions. Tapping, whistling, and whispering sounds are noted by the family, and Mrs. Ayres feels certain that her long dead little daughter, Sukey,  is trying to communicate with her. The family turns to Faraday for help, but he is a modern man of science, and refuses to fall prey to the fanciful fears of the Ayreses. Along the way, he inexplicably falls in love with Caroline, Rod’s sister.

Author Waters artfully beguiles her readers into entering a sort of gothic puzzle, where things may or may not be what they seem. How much of a role does the psychology of the family, now destitute after centuries of comfort, play in the manifestations that plague them? How much of a role does it play in the choices made by Dr. Faraday, who desperately wants to make his mark in the world, and rise above his family origins? The final paragraph in this fable is devastating, and I’m still not sure how to answer those questions, nor have I made up my mind about the “little stranger” who plays the malevolent tricks. But I do know that The Little Stranger is a hauntingly good story.

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