One summer shortly after the end of the war, Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds, the Ayres family mansion, to tend the family’s maid. Hundreds has faded drastically from when he knew it as a boy. Land is being sold off to pay debts, the house is falling apart, and the family have become largely recluses. Dr. Faraday somehow finds himself entwined with this peculiar family despite their differences in status, and shortly realizes that something more is going on than what he had imagined.
I love Sarah Waters, and went into this book with a great deal of expectations. It proved to be very different from her previous books but no less fascinating. Even without the jacket cover telling me so, I could tell this was a post-war Britain. It feels very much like a society in flux, and there’s always the mention of the forthcoming National Health Service to give a hint. Dr. Faraday is a product of this changing culture, having fairly low origins in Warwickshire but having attended some of the best colleges to attain his profession. Yet he still hides his Warwickshire accent because it’s low class. (Yes, this still happens, my own husband consciously changed his accent because it was “low class” and he was attending schools where he was looked down on for it. In some respects Britain hasn’t changed at all.) The Ayres family is completely unable to keep up their house and their land, and they even sell some of it to the county council for housing nearly on their doorstep. This is a period of change, and that change resonates throughout the book.
Beyond that, this book is absolutely creepy. I know we’re meant to wonder if the family is actually insane or if it’s a ghost story, but it totally felt like a ghost story to me. It creeped me out like one, and as I was reading it and it got dark I almost had to stop because I was sure something was going to start tapping in the wall. I was convinced that Dr. Faraday was just being rational because he had to be as a doctor, not because the family were actually insane, but it’s certainly notable that most of the ghost incidents are told through the Ayres family, and the narrator doesn’t witness them himself. Waters completely pulls off the atmosphere of suspense and even though I was getting steadily more freaked out by the book, I didn’t want to put it down. I read it in just one day.
The Little Stranger has definitely not marred my love for Sarah Waters’ work and now I am more determined than ever to get to the last two books of hers that I have to read. Highly recommended.
I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.