Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A central character in this suspenseful novel is the once grand house of the Ayres family, Hundreds Hall, now falling apart. I was reminded of Penge in Maurice. Mrs. Ayres and her adult children, Roderick and Caroline, live in poverty at Hundreds Hall. They maintain their upper class snobbery, however. The time period is just after the second World War.

Dr. Faraday's first visit to the house was back when he was a child. His mother was once a nursemaid there. As an adult, he is called to the house when medical attention is required and the Ayres' regular doctor is unavailable. After that, he becomes entwined in the lives of the Ayres and the disturbing goings-on at Hundreds Hall. The tension builds slowly. The use of Dr. Faraday as narrator helps to put the brakes on melodrama because he dismisses the possibility of ghosts or poltergeists. Yet events get stranger and more sinister and harder for Faraday to explain away.

All of Waters previous novels have had lesbian content but you won't find any in this one. You will find a supernatural thriller of high literary quality.

Note added November 2, 2009: I saw Sarah Waters interviewed by Bill Richardson at the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival a couple of weeks ago. What a fabulous session! The venue was large and it was sold out - lesbians everywhere! Waters said that in spite of the total lack of lesbian content in The Little Stranger, readers were finding it in the book anyway. The lesbian is represented by Dr. Faraday (a man) for some; for others, it is the house itself. Richardson said he was sure that Caroline Ayres was the dyke. Waters doesn't mind this sort of interpretation of her work, being used to doing the same thing in her own reading.

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