Friday, 9 May 2014

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A story of ghosts or madness?

If ghosts, ghost or poltergeist?

If the latter, caused by whom?

If madness, whose?

The Little Stranger is a wonderfully creepy book, set in immediate post-war England, when everything is still in short supply, and old country estates are becoming impossible for some of the landed gentry to keep up, yet are white elephants they can't get rid of. At one, Hundreds, things are happening - but are they supernatural or horribly natural?

Dr. Faraday, son of a former servant at Hundreds, attends the only live-in servant they can find, a young woman who tells him that there is something wrong with the house. He dismisses it, but as he gets to know and become entwined with the Ayres' family, mother, son, and daughter, he and we become less sure of this.

I found for the first part of the book, I had trouble staying focused, but as odd things started to creep in around the corners of my vision, it got more and more engrossing. Particularly as the manifestations of ghosts or a disturbed mind(s) became more evident.

Sarah Waters does an excellent job of painting a time and place, and also setting it subtly askew. There are many hints, but she doesn't lead you by the hand to certain conclusions. Oh, no. This is much more ambiguous than that. And in many ways, any of the options are horrifying. If you're watching a malevolent force tear a family apart, that's horrifying. If the same effects are caused by madness, there's the same effect.

As Waters refuses to categorically state an ending, the reader is left to their own decisions, their own inquest into the events, as it were. Since I worked as a tour guide for a Haunted Walk once, I tend towards plumping for a supernatural cause. Ah, but then, what cause? And who is the Little Stranger?

I have my theory. We can discuss.


  1. I would love to hear your theory. I read this a while back, so I don't remember the details that might lead one directly to one conclusion or another, but I stand firmly on the supernatural ground. As to the nature of that, though...

    1. It's been a while since I've read it, but if I remember my theory, it was that the ghost was a poltergeist, but since the lore around poltergeists has to do with an unstable adolescent being the locus, I theorized it was the narrator who fueled it. I can't remember why I came up with that theory now. :)

  2. See, I was pretty settled in the poor dead daughter ghost camp. But honestly, the narrator's obsession makes it seem like he MUST be tied to it somehow. I wish the text supported it being the ghost of his mother, but I didn't see many/any hints of that.