Reason for Reading: Sarah Waters had a new book out! Need I say more!
Comments: The Ayres family have lived at Hundreds Hall since the early-mid 1700s and now in post-war times (WWII) there remain three family members, one live-in servant and one half-time servant under its roof. During the war, they did their part for the war effort giving their rooms over to soldiers, their land over to the army for its use, their silver for melting, their furs, woolens, linens, etc for cutting apart and making clothing, handing down clothing they didn't need for those left without homes after the bombings and now that the war is over they have little left. Mrs. Ayres, in her fifties, not old by any means, seems old as she belongs to a different generation and the children try to keep the facts of their penury from her. Roderick, returns from the war a cripple and after recovering from his wounds tries to keep the dairy farm and the estate running for his mother's sake even if it kills him. Caroline is called home from the WRENs to nurse her brother through the long recovery from his injuries at his homecoming and then settles down to help with the estate; a robust, active, yet plain woman she is many years past the expected age of marrying yet she still hopes and now she can be found either in the kitchen with the women help or out on the land helping out the dairy farmer. But this is nothing especially special about the Ayres family, this is a situation that a geat many of the landed gentry of England found themselves in post WWII and the only way they managed to survive was to sell off the land piece by agonizing piece.
What makes the Ayres special is Hundreds Hall itself. Naturally without the money, the manpower or the resources it is falling to pieces and slowly crumbling around them. Most rooms have been completely closed off and more and more are closed off each season but that is not it either. Upon the new live-in maid's arrival she immediately falls ill of a stomach ache and confides in the doctor that something bad is in the house. He tells her she is homesick and not to be silly. The other maid eventually becomes aware of a presence causing trouble in her kitchen. Roderick is found many times bumped and bruised in the night and he claims someone is moving large pieces of furniture in his room. In fact Roddie starts having many unexplained, even dangerous, episodes. Mrs. Ayres is not herself anymore. She has heard voices and seems to be living in the past. Caroline herself is looking at books on Poltergeists and Phantasms in the library. While the Doctor is trying to cope with everyone's mental state he finds out first hand that there are some things that no matter how much he tries to explain them away reasonably, he knows what he has seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears and can't quite shake the feeling. Has an old family madness caught up with them all? Is there a ghost in the house? A poltergeist perhaps? Or maybe, it is that the house itself is evil?
This is something a little different for Waters. I've only read Fingersmith myself so far but I've read plot summaries of the others and feel confident in saying this is not her usual comfort zone. I loved the time period and the look inside the lives of post war gentry, while the doctor who comes from a poor background adds contrast to the two different ways of life even in hard times. There is a romance between the doctor and one of the female characters that slowly develops during the book and doesn't really come to a head until near the end of the book but it is an element that keeps the story on a basic plot, the relationship between the two, as all the madness is going on sometimes taking over the plot but always returning to that basic thread; which holds the book together well in my opinion. In fact, it is the ending of this book that infuriated me. It did not end the way I had expected and I was quite shocked with the outcome and actually quite annoyed that things ended up the way they did. I've had time to recuperate now, but that is the sign of good characterization, when a book's characters mean so much to you that you are invested in them and want all to end well for them all. When a book can make you get mad at it, because you are on the charaters' side that's when I know I've just read a brilliant book.
Sarah Waters is a brilliant storyteller. Right from page one I was dragged into her world and could not escape. I read this book much more quickly than I would another book of the same page length. I took it everywhere with me and could not stop reading. Comparing it to Fingersmith, it didn't have as many twist and turns and excitement but then it is a different type of book. This is an atmospheric book and a splendidly well-crafted ghost story. Enjoy!Read more ›
The Little Stranger is an eerie story that is told in a very subtle way. It was a 2009 Man Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist and also a 2009 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction & Mystery/Thriller.
The story takes place in England after WWII and features the well-to-do Ayres family. The matron of the family, Mrs. Ayres, is widowed and she lives at the Hundreds Hall estate with her rather homely daughter, Caroline, and son, Roderick. The family has fallen on hard times, and what was once a shining jewel is now a decrepit mansion in desperate need of repairs. Roderick, in his father's stead, has taken over the handling of the estate's day-to-day affairs but is finding it hard to manage when there are no liquid assets left. The rugs and furniture, once beautiful and ornate, are threadbare and shabby. The bulk of the financial burden falls on Roderick's shoulders, which puts a huge strain on him.
One of the local country doctors, Dr. Faraday, is called to Hundreds Hall because the Ayres' young servant, a teenager named Betty, has been stricken with stomach pains. His now-deceased mother was once a servant for the Ayres family, and Dr. Faraday remembers being so enamoured with Hundreds Hall as a young boy. He is thrilled to have an opportunity to see it again, but he is quite shocked to see it in such a state of disrepair. The Ayres have become somewhat like hermits, keeping mostly to their estate and not venturing out into town. A congenial friendship is struck up between Dr. Faraday and the Ayres family, and he begins to drop in and visit with them. He notices that Roderick's leg, which was injured in the war, has been giving him trouble and the good doctor offers to take a look at it. Knowing that the family has no money to pay for treatment but is too proud to admit it outright, he advises that he is researching an experimental treatment of such injuries and Roderick would be doing him a favour if he were to be the doctor's guinea pig. Because the treatment is experimental and not guaranteed, there would be no charge for the doctor's services. Roderick agrees to give it a go, and the doctor arranges to visit on a regular basis on the pretense that his visits are completely professional as the family's physician. In reality, Dr. Faraday is becoming rather smitten with Caroline!
Accidents begin to happen at Hundreds Hall, and the Ayres family as well as the servant, Betty, believe that there is an evil presence haunting the house that is to blame. Dr. Faraday thinks this is nonsense and feels that the family is slowly going mad. Is the doctor correct in his assumption, or is there something more sinister afoot? What will it take for the doctor to see the truth and, when he comes to that realization, will it be too late?
I found myself frustrated at Dr. Faraday's refusal to believe that the events that took place were anything out of the ordinary. In his no-nonsense approach, he rationalized everything as being solely attributed to the family's mental state. His obstinate manner made me want to grab him by his lapels and shake some sense into him!
Waters is a new-to-me author, and I found myself completely wrapped up in this psychological thriller. Her prose is just beautiful, and I could clearly envision Hundreds Hall as I listened to the story. I love the understated way that she relayed the tale. She did not need to resort to gory or graphic details, and I found myself hooked by what she didn't say. I am now a Waters fan and will be looking into her backlist.
Narrator Simon Vance is a delight to listen to! I love his British accent, and his characterizations were spot-on. I have heard of Vance by reputation only, and now I have finally had the pleasure to hear him. I found myself listening with rapt attention. He is easily one of my favourite narrators.
MY RATING: 4 stars!! It was really good! You should put it on your "To Be Read" list.Read more ›
It is 1949. Britain is still feeling the effects of the war. In rural Warwickshire, Dr.Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall to check on the well being of a servant in the Ayres family home. As a child Dr. Faraday was in the house once. His mother was a nursemaid there when she was younger. He was captivated by the house, the family and their wealth. On this visit, he is dismayed by the decline of both house and family. Mrs Ayres lives there with her son Roddie, who was injured in the war and is struggling to keep the family home afloat. Daughter Caroline was called home to help when Roddie returned from the war and never left. The only live in servant left is a fourteen year old girl.
From that first visit, Dr. Faraday slowly becomes part of the family's life. He is called on often to treat Roddie. Something ails Roddie besides his physical injuries. The young servant girl insists there is something 'wrong' with the house. Caroline begins to wonder this as well, as more misfortune befalls the family.
" This house is playing parlour games with us, I think. We shan't pay it any mind if it starts up again."
She confides in Dr. Faraday and enlists his help.
" I don't know what's going on here, any more than you do. But I'd like to help you figure it out. I'll take my chances with the hungry house, don't worry about that."
This is a tale with a 'gothic' feel to it, a ghost story of sorts. But it doesn't involve overt frights or over the top scenarios. Instead it is all the more delicious for the subtle and insidious manner in which the story unfolds. Everyday items and occurrences suddenly take on a sinister bent.
The interplay between the characters is just as much a part of the story. Dr. Faraday is a bit of an enigma. He is from a lower social class than the Ayres. At times he is made painfully aware of this. At other times, the Ayres family seems to depend on him excessively. Is he there for himself, for personal gain or simply to be in the house again? The other main character Caroline is also a mystery. At times she is playful, other times aloof, practical yet playful. What does she really want from the good Doctor? Many of the other characters give us a glimpse into the social life and mores of the time period.
Waters is a master of building a story. The tension grows and we are left wondering if the house is indeed perpetrating these calamities or is it the residents of the house?Read more ›