Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (audio)

Not long ago, Simon @ Savidge Reads reminded his readers of the joys of curling up with a spooky ghost story, especially one that takes place in an old gothic mansion. Man, you've gotta love these types of books. These were the types of stories I read in my youth, and I occasionally find myself hankering for one. His recommendation to fill the void? The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Waters is one of those authors, like Daphne du Maurier, that I've always intended to read but just hadn't gotten around to it. I was delighted to find that my library even carried this one on audio.

At the story's center is majestic Hundreds Hall. Our narrator, Dr. Farraday, has been mesmerized by the estate since he was a young boy, when his mother worked there as a nursery maid. Since then, his parents sacrificed all to put him through college. He received his medical degree, clawed his way out of his lower social status into that of lower-middle class, and now runs his own house call practice as he drifts into middle age, unmarried and frumpish.

When Dr. Farraday has the opportunity to visit Hundreds Hall to treat their housekeeper, he jumps at the chance. To his disappointment, he find the once-stately manor in severe disrepair, overgrown with weeds and crumbling down around its inhabitants. The maid, he finds, is feigning an illness, with the hopes of having a good excuse to leave this house that just isn't quite right, and gives her the creeps. Dr. Farraday passes her off as a silly teenager.

The house is now occupied by the widowed Mrs. Ayres, her son Rod, who arrived back home from WWII burned and crippled, and her daughter Caroline, a plain and big-boned girl, plus two maids. The family, once the pillars of the community, has literally been left behind by the world. Sequestered in the dilapidated, isolated Hundreds Hall, they have failed to adapt to post-war society, shunning anything modern. Farraday endears himself to the family, though, and starts to become not only the family doctor, but a friend - probably the family's only friend. He even goes so far as to believe he has fallen in love with Caroline.

Then strange things start to occur. Ringing telephones with nobody on the other end, mysterious burn marks, scratches in the wall paint, fluttering noises at night...all harmless but perplexing. Then things take a dark turn - an accident with the family dog, a fire, madness and worse. What exactly is going on here? Dr. Farraday describes it all in a doctor's clinical, factual manner, explaining away the occurrences as the side-effects of a neglected house, nerves, and a flighty, mischievous housekeeper. But can we really trust our narrator? Are his motives pure? Is this family cursed, like the Kennedy's? Or is there something more sinister at work?

I must say, I am dazzled by Ms. Waters' writing. While this is a ghost story, she exercises so much restraint in the storytelling that it is more of a subtle mist that creeps into the crooks and crannies of your mind rather than an over-the-top spook fest. She delicately weaves intrigue, social commentary, human inter-relationships, motive and the supernatural together to give us a complete satisfying package. While the story ends with finality and loose threads "officially" accounted for, my mind was full of questions and theories. Boy, what I wouldn't give to participate in a book club discussion of this one!

The narrator of the audio is spectacular. I found myself, as I was with "The Thirteenth Tale", drawn in and immersed up to my ears in the delicious British-ness of it all. I'm told that Ms. Waters has many more treasures in her portfolio, some worthy of Top Books Ever lists. Any recommendations on the next one I should read?

5 out of 5 stars


Melody said...

Oh wow! This sounds wonderful! I love a good gothic story! I've to move this book up on my reading list.

I've heard a lot of great things about Fingersmith so perhaps you may like to read this next? ;)

Unknown said...

I did enjoy Little Stranger, but it wasn't worthy of 5 stars. I found myself getting bored in a few sections and once you've read The Fingersmith you will realise how good at writing Sarah Waters can be!

I haven't read any of her other books - I want to ensure I have some great reads available at all times and don't want to rush it. I have heard that Little Stranger is the weakest though.

The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time - so while you are on a roll reading all my favourites...lol!!!

Basically you can't go wrong with Sarah Waters - she is one of the best!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - Fingersmith will probably be the next Sarah Waters read, if I can dig my way out of the commitment hole I'm in!

Jackie - Wow! I got the impression you really liked this book! I guess I've not read anything else by the author, so I have no basis for comparison, but this story really grew on me. I could NOT lay down my iPod. And then after I'd finished it, I just kept thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind.

Susan said...

I hadn't heard of this author. She sounds very good. It's been a long time since I read a Gothic mystery, so I'll add it to the pile!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Susan - I'd heard of her for awhile, and apparently she has quite the following! I'm told her novel Fingersmith is one of her best, so I will make sure I get to that sometime soon!

Beth F said...

I'm a bit of a weeny, so I'm not sure I could listen to ghost story. But I loved Thirteenth Tale.... Hummm.

Literate Housewife said...

This sounds incredible, and it's not The Little Stranger I thought you were talking about. I MUST read this book!

I thought The Sister by Poppy Adams. I read this book by audio book as well and the narrator was incredible! It is also set in Britain in an old mansion. Isn't that just a wonderful environment for some gothic fiction?

Thanks for the great lead!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - this book is safe for weenies! The supernatural aspect of the book is very subtle, and you never REALLY know for sure what really is going on in this house. If you liked The Thirteenth Tale, I would recommend this one.

Jennifer - I love gothic fiction! It just has an aura that takes me away from everything. It's a little bit romantic, a little spooky. I really think you would like this one!

Unknown said...

I did really like this book, just didn't LOVE it! When you are expecting amazing thigs then it was a little bit disappointing to have a few slower sections in the book. I can see how it might work better in audio form.

Did you listen carefully to the very last sentence of the book? The twist is in the last few words and I didn't notice it until it was pointed out.

Melissa said...

I'll have to see if I can find this audio! It sounds interesting.

I also have The Fingersmith and have heard great things about it!

Darlene said...

I didn't read your review yet. This is sitting in my tbr pile to read. I did check out your rating though-a 5-yaaaaaaaaay-can't wait to read it!

Anonymous said...

I can imagine this was fabulous on audio. I have to say as a read it lacked something... until you really thought about it and then re-read the end and now I think its a bit genius! I have gone from liking it to liking it very much. Who knew it would get Man Booker nominated!

Amy said...

LOL, Jackie did you mean to say it wasn't worthy of 5 stars FOR ME? ;)

I haven't read any of her books, but I have Fingersmith for the 1% well read challenge. I think I should read some of her other titles first so that I'm blown away by Fingersmith instead of blown away by Fingersmith and disappointed by everything else.

Carrie K. said...

I am definitely adding this one to my to-read list! Great review. :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - I had to go back and listen to make sure, but yeah, it was pretty clear on audio that you needed to rethink the whole thing, once you heard that last sentence. I just think the whole thing was brilliant!

Melissa - I've now got Fingersmith on the list!!!

Dar - ooooh! Read it quick!

Simon - this totally rocks on audio. It is so deliberate and subtle, but never lacking anything with the wonderful narration. I was very glad to see it on the Booker long list!

Amy - not a bad strategy. Reading an author's magnum opus does tend to ruin the remainder. But still, it is really a personal preference on what qualifies as "best". Ask ten people their favorite Austen novel, and you will get ten different answers!

Carrie - I would love to hear your opinion!

Gavin said...

Sandy - The Little Stranger just got long-listed for the Booker Prize. You rock!

I've never had luck with audio books, maybe I should start with this oner.

Frances said...

At the top of my list, Sandy. Don't know how I feel about US cover but I will try not to look at it. Never read Sarah Waters before so you have pushed me into knocking at least one book from my Hall of Shame list - things I should have read but have not.

Unknown said...

Gavin beat me to the Mann Booker news. This sounds like a perfect audio book. I've just subscribed to Audible.com thanks to your influence. I will certainly get more reading done this way.

Anonymous said...

I've never read anything by Waters, but I will definitely have to now.

Andreea said...

Hi there, I just stumbled upon your blog and I really like it. It's a lovely blog:) I'll come again.

The Little Stranger is on my reading list:)

I just started my own blog, feel free to check it out:


Have a nice day,


Iliana said...

I was going to skim through your review because I want to read this book but I couldn't! I had to know what you thought so I'm happy to hear it sounds just wonderful!

I have read a couple of her books and have really loved them. My favorite is Affinity which is also a ghost story of sorts.

Andreea said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Sandy. I added you to my blogroll:)

Anna said...

This one sounds really good. You've just added to my to-read list.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

Ok I really want to read this one... tbechappyhis sounds wonderful!