Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Little Stranger

Sarah Waters is a slippery one. She makes you work a bit to see what is happening in her novels. Not in a set fire to the book way, like the House of Leaves, but you can't really breeze through her books. She got started with Victorian fiction and then moved on to World War 2 with the Night Watch. Her most recent book, the Little Stranger is set in late 40s England, but feels like a Wilkie Collins novel right out of the Victorian era.

The book centers on a decaying country mansion in Warwickshire. The estate is dying thanks in part to the squeeze of the Labour government, but also thanks to the decline of the Ayres family. With an elderly matron, a war wounded son and a homely daughter resigned to spinsterdom, they don't have much to which to look forward. A country doctor, a local poor boy made good, becomes involved with the family on a housecall. He has good memories of the house from a childhood visit, and finds himself drawn into the doomed household.

A series of terrible events plague the household and one by one they start to blame the supernatural. The doctor will have none of it of course and does his best to do what he thinks is right. What is actually happening requires close reading. Waters never comes out and says it, but the last line is a big clue.

Like the Victorian novels, this one proceeds at an often languorous pace. She takes her time in establishing mood and character. If you aren't up for a read that demands attention stay away.


Citizen Reader said...

I wanted to like this one, but couldn't shake the feeling it was about 250 pages too long. There's langorous, and then there's endless. It was no Michael Cox Victorian novel, I'll say that.

Tripp said...

No it certainly is not a Michael Cox, but I think she is going for different things. Waters likes the unreliable narrator bit quite a lot.

I can see why you think it was too long. There were big stretches where I was waiting for the next terrible act. Once I felt I was sure what was going on, I wanted to rush to the end, which she didn't do.