The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

16 May

I borrowed this book from my Sister. Both she and my Father had read it, and they both had enjoyed it. We tend to share the same taste in literature, and so I trust their judgement when it comes to books. I had never read anything by Ms. Waters, but when I read the line ‘An elegantly written, chill-inducing novel of psychological suspense…’ I was sold. I love a good mystery, especially when it is laden with psychological undertones.

The book itself could be classified as a tome, weighing in at 463 pages. This is not a book to be read in one sitting. With that being said, there is nothing languid about the pacing of this book. Like any good mystery, there is that gradual progression of suspense being instilled with every turn of the page. As the story unfolds, you realize the plot is driven in equal parts by the atmospheric backdrop of the Ayres decaying estate, as well as the disenfranchised characters that dwell within the narrative. As the reader, you are being drawn slowly and carefully into the damaged lives of the Ayres family, and are granted a birds eye view of their dismantled and war torn lives.

As the story progresses, the author begins to reveal startling insights into the psyche of each and every character. Like a psychological case study, we begin to uncover the most unsettling aspects of human nature, and the disturbing effects that war and desolation can conjure. Each character is battling their own demons; succumbing to a merciless past that refuses to set them free. Plagued by their unrelenting past, and facing their unforgiving futures, the family gives way to sheer madness. What makes the narrative all the more sinister is the fact that in the minds of the characters, the decrepit walls and ceilings that surround them, have taken on a life force of their own: A dark, and menacing force, that results in the onset of a series of horrific and troubling ‘accidents’.

As tragedy strikes repeatedly, and the family members suffering escalates, the characters believe themselves to have fallen prey to a vindictive force that they are ill equipped to battle. But is this the case? Was this force lying dormant for years, and after a long slumber found itself awoken by the tortured souls that walked its corridors? Or were the Ayres’ minds already so far gone, that they created this ‘little stranger’ in a means of conceding to their dying way of life. I do not want to give anything away, and so I advise you to read this book, and decide for yourself.

There are no comfortable solutions or conclusions to this book. Although it is a quiet drama,  its effects are as haunting as they are long lasting. From start to finish, the writing is completely absorbing, replete with the mournful and angry sentiment that pervades works like du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. It truly is a modern day gothic masterpiece.


10 Responses to “The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters”

  1. Anne Clements May 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    I’m ashamed to say that I’ve only read one of Sarah Waters’ books (Tipping the Velvet, which was very good). You have made me want to read this one, even though I’m not keen on ghost stories!

    • literaryagent007 May 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

      Hi Anne,

      After reading this one, I will be sure to check out her other books. I’ll put Tipping the Velvet at the top of my list. I’m glad my post inspired you to want to read The Little Stranger–you will not be disappointed!

  2. nanhinchliff May 16, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    Wow, Drea, what a compelling review. You’ve got me hooked. I definitely have put The little Stranger on my “to read” list. Thanks.

  3. Jane Banting May 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Hi Drea
    I read this a year or two back and also found it compelling. I agree that there are no neatly sewn up endings but I enjoyed the story and characterizations. Anne shouldn’t be put off as I wouldn’t say it was a ghost story in the traditional sense.

    • literaryagent007 May 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

      Hi Jane,

      It’s true, it isn’t a ghost story in the traditional sense. I am sure Anne will enjoy the read. Have you read anything else by her? Or would you recommend a title?

      Hope all is well,

      • Jane Banting May 27, 2012 at 7:39 am #

        I’ve always got a book by my bed and can’t sleep until I’ve read at least a few pages. Glancing at the pile of recent reads I would suggest a couple of Sebastian Faulks titles: firstly, Human Traces which is about the friendship between two early 20th century psychiatrists and the development of their professional and personal lives. The psychiatric element can get a little heavy going in places but it’s worth it. Secondly, Engleby which focuses on a single character and is a real page turner (if you like oddballs!). Have fun in NYC!

      • literaryagent007 May 27, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

        Both of these titles sound really good! I have never read anything by Faulks, but hope to remedy that soon. Thanks for the suggested reads 🙂

  4. Jeanne Gassman May 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Have you read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters? It has an amazing and shocking twist.

    • literaryagent007 May 17, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

      Hello Jeanne,

      No, I have not yet read Fingersmith but plan on reading more of Ms. Waters work.

      Thanks for the tip,


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