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Author / Writer Spotlight, Fiction

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Dr Faraday was called upon to the Hundreds Hall Manor by the Ayres to take a look at Betty the parlour maid. Hundreds Hall is once where Dr Faraday’s mother used to work as the Ayreses’ parlour maid. Young Faraday recalled the day he pulled apart an acorn from the plasterwork and was reprimanded by his mother. He also recalled some of his fond early childhood memories in Hundreds Hall. Betty by the way feigned sickness and told Dr. Faraday “there was something bad happening in the house”.

It’s post WWII in rural Warwickshire, the inhabitants of the Hundreds Hall are upper class family trying to retain remnants of their glorious past by doing what they can to keep the manor intact. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners are the mother, Mrs Ayres; son, Roderick and daughter, Caroline with her dog, gyp. Betty, the parlour maid who lives with them and Mrs Bazeley, the cook.
But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.

This is my first Sarah Waters book, and one which is atmospheric (then again I might have to read the others to make that judgement). I savour the way she describes Hundreds Hall. Hundreds Hall is crawling with blights and moulds, crumbling from subsidence and water damage. Beetles knock behind panelling. Weeds force themselves through stone. The window panes are dim and warped; they reflect nothing truly. Its corridors are dark, light spilling unexpectedly from open doors and the great dome above. It painted a grim but believable picture of an old manor that I had often visited during my staff training and conference, or even the Town Halls of England, who bear the same gloominess and the uneasy feeling that I get of something sinister lurking in the dark corridors.

Dr. Faraday also has issues of his own. His parents are laden with debts to see him off to Medical schools and he felt he hasn’t achieve much. There is his colleague Dr. Seely who is in stiff competition with his service around the catchment area. Unmarried, he is slouching into an self pity and unloved middle age, apprehensive about the progress his classmates made and pessimistic about his future.

Soon there were mysterious things that happened in Hundreds Hall, the incessant door bells and telephone ringing. The smudges and craving, the night-time mischief etc…

The Little Stranger operates in the queasy borderlands between the supernatural and the psychopathological. The story strings you along anticipating of disasters waiting to happen. All the while a good portrayal of the changing society, the corrosive power of class resentment as well as the damage wrought by war. The psyches of the inhabitants are riddled with ambivalence, holed by self-doubt, worn away by stifled frustration waiting to be exploded, as the house sucking the life out of the whole family.

Some of the memorable scenes for me are about the morning when gyp was supposed to be put to sleep, the horrific scene of Mrs Ayres trapped in the nurseries, the emotional conversation when Caroline rejected Dr. Faraday.

Rating: 3/5

It is a hard book for me to review. When I first heard it was a ghost story I was put on my guard because I don’t like to be spooked and the last ghost story I have read was zillion year ago with Stephen King’s Talisman. I have wild imaginations, and if I read stuff like this before I go to bed, my mind will be disturbed. The scene setting, the characters are all very intriguing, but the length of it is frustrating. Sometimes I see a common theme or thread stringing from one book I read before this (Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase) and this one, regardless how remote the title of the two books are. In this case, is suicide.

Interesting argument was drawn between the difference in ghost and poltergeist which thrown me off-guard a little as to where the story is going. I like the idea that Poltergeist is some sort of energy or collection of energies. Phantasms are not ghosts. They’re parts of a person.

‘Part of a person?’ as Dr. Faraday.

‘Unconscious parts, so strong or so troubled they can take on a life of their own,’ said Caroline.

I wonder if there is some part of me is taking a life of its own and wandering on the other side of earth? As I wrote this and I read the last 2 pages of the book again, I finally understand who is the “creature” or the “bad” things that haunted Hundred Halls. I can’t help but smile and think that Sarah Waters is very clever, very clever indeed. 🙂

I am going to drop Savidge Reads an email to tell him what I think is the cause of his chill. If this is the case, the ending of the book is much more satisfying than it led on to be.

I am reading this book for 2010 A to Z and Typical British challenge.

Hardback. Publisher: Virago 2009; Length: 499 pages; Setting: Post WWII Warwickshire, England. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 19 March 2010

About the writer:

Sarah Waters was born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, Wales in 1966. Waters attended university, and earned degrees in English literature. She received a BA from the University of Kent, an MA from Lancaster University, and a PhD from Queen Mary, University of London. The work for her PhD dissertation, (‘Wolfskins and togas : lesbian and gay historical fictions, 1870 to the present’), served as inspiration and material for future books. As part of her research, she read 19th-century pornography, in which she came across the title of her first book, Tipping the Velvet. Before writing novels, Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel. It was during the process of writing her thesis that she thought she would write a novel; she began as soon as the thesis was complete. Her work is very research-intensive, which is an aspect she enjoys.

Sarah Waters was named as one of Granta’s 20 Best of Young British Writers in January 2003. The same year, she received the South Bank Award for Literature. She was named Author of the Year at the 2003 British Book Awards. In both 2006 and 2009 she won “Writer of the Year” at the annual Stonewall Awards.

Each of her novels has received awards as well.

Tipping the Velvet

  • Betty Trask Award, 1999
  • Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year, 1999
  • Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, 1999
  • New York Times Notable Book of the Year Award, 1999
  • Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction (shortlist), 2000
  • Lambda Literary Award for Fiction, 2000


  • Stonewall Book Award (American Library Association GLBT Roundtable Book Award), 2000
  • Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award (shortlist), 2000
  • Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction, 2000
  • Lambda Literary Award for Fiction (shortlist), 2000
  • Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (shortlist), 2000
  • Somerset Maugham Award for Lesbian and Gay Fiction, 2000
  • Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, 2000


  • British Book Awards Author of the Year, 2002
  • Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, 2002
  • Man Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist), 2002
  • Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist), 2002

The Night Watch

  • Man Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist), 2006
  • Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist), 2006
  • Lambda Literary Award, 2007

The Little Stranger

  • Man Booker Prize for Fiction (shortlist), 2009
  • Orange Prize long list, 2010

I think I have to read all of her books!!

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


7 thoughts on “The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

  1. I’m currently reading Tipping the Velvet. After I finished Fingersmith I was so “wowed” by Waters that I got two more of her books, Tipping the Velvet being the earlier of the two, so I started it. And I have to say, although it’s okay for me, if I had read this first, I never would have said this is an author I have to chase down and read all of her books. I might not have even read Fingersmith, which would have been a terrible shame!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | March 22, 2010, 11:01 pm
  2. “As I wrote this and I read the last 2 pages of the book again, I finally understand who is the “creature” or the “bad” things that haunted Hundred Halls.”

    Ok, now I am curious. Did I miss this when I read the book? You have to email me and tell me what your finding is!

    Posted by Anaamica | March 23, 2010, 4:02 am
  3. Hey! I just wanted to stop by and say it’s definitely not too late to join! Glad to have you!

    Posted by J.T. Oldfield | March 28, 2010, 2:35 am
  4. The review has cautioned me. 🙂 I am going to bring it with me this weekend when I go away to Southern California for Easter’s. Now I might have to find another book. Affinity?

    Posted by Matthew | March 29, 2010, 2:15 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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