Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

How does one sum up such a book as The Little Stranger?  How does one accurately put this sprawling, Gothic decadence of a novel into words that will make every reader of this humble, inadequate blog post run out and grab themselves a copy?

Newsday calls it, “Completely absorbing… I wanted to linger in that fictional world, page by page, chapter by chapter.”

Not good enough.

The Seattle Times says, “A virtuoso writer… If you want a ghost story that creeps up your spine, The Little Stranger delivers.”

Closer, but still not it.  This is about the closest;

“Waters has managed to write a near-perfect gothic novel,” says Laura Miller for Salon.com.  “While at the same time confidently deploying the form into fresher territory.  It’s an astonishing performance, right down to the book’s mournful and devastating final sentence.”

And oh, what a mournful and devastating final sentence it is.  It still haunts me.

“And perhaps there is a limit to the grieving that the human heart can do. As when one adds salt to a tumbler of water, there comes a point where simply no more will be absorbed.”

The Little Stranger.  It is about so much, too much for this humble blogger to even begin to capture.  And it is when it comes to talking about what, exactly, it is about is where I get tongue tied.  In truth, I find I have no words.  Plus, it is my personal belief that coming into the book with little knowledge of what it is about the better to feel the full impact of it.  All I knew going in was that so many of my blogging friends loved Sarah Waters, that it was a Gothic, spooky read, and that it would fulfill part of my requirements for RIP V.  I had no idea of the… treat… I was in for.  It is a ghost story, set in postwar Britain.  There is an old, ancestral haunted house  full of lots of macabre atmosphere, creaks and groans, and bumps in the night.  Doctor Faraday returns to the house he last saw 30 years ago as a young boy, just as enamored with it as he was then.   He leads a quiet life as a respectable country doctor but soon, however, he finds himself caught up in the Ayres family’s drama.  Son Roderick has returned from World War II a broken and scarred young man and Faraday becomes his doctor, bringing him to the house quite often. The house is in decline, it’s masonry crumbling into dust, the once lush gardens stifled with weeds, and most of it closed off, already retired from life.  What is it, exactly, that haunts the house, be it something malevolent or just a dying way life?  I would love to hear what you think.

The class struggles!  Woman’s place in society!  The history of medical practices and how Britain was forever changed by World War II!  Sarah Waters is such a master, I hate I waited to so long to try one of her books.  Her writing is so amazing.  Here, read this.  This is suspense. This is how to do it…

No wind disturbed the branches of the trees, no bird rose, even, in the thin, chill air, and if any sound had come, any movement been made, I would have caught it.  Nothing changed, nothing at all-and yet, it began to seem to me that something was there in the garden with us, creeping or edging towards us across the crisp, white snow.  Worse than that, I had the bizarre impression that this thing, whatever it was, was in some way familiar: as if its bashful advance towards us was more properly a return.  I felt the flesh of my back rise, anticipating a touch-as in a childish game of tig.  I drew my hands from hers, and twisted round, looking wildly about.  p. 403

I have endeavored to write a review of this masterpiece for about two weeks now.  I even had over 500 words written about it and I just deleted them all.    They were not good enough to describe how I have come to feel about this book.  I am almost obsessed with it.  I am surprised I have been able to read anything since finishing it.  It’s a reading slump started for sure.  Sarah Waters pulled me, head over heels, into this dark, mysterious novel and has yet to turn me loose.  I’m afraid this review is very “tripping over my own feet,” but it’s the best I can do.  It wouldn’t let me go until I reviewed it.   Sitting here now, writing this out with pen to paper, and glancing at the book by my side, I feel compelled to pick it up and loose myself in it all over again.  And that, my friends is the highest recommendation I can give any book.  I urge you to go pick up The Little Stranger now, as the days get shorter and cooler, as the trees begin to turn and the earth goes to sleep for a time, get lost in the world of Hundreds Hall and the lives of Doctor Faraday, Caroline, Roderick and Mrs Ayres.  You will not regret it.

The Little Stranger
Written by Sarah Waters
Historical Fiction
Published 04 May 2010
by Riverhead Books
Paperback, 512 pages
9781594484469
Purchased from The Book Depository
Rated 5 out of 5

Purchase from The Book Depository

Other reviews by:

The Book Lady’s Blog | Caribou’s Mom | Presenting Lenore | Shelf Love | Semicolon | Jenny’s Books | Fizzy Thoughts | and many, many more…

I am a Book Depository and Barnes & Noble Affiliate and will make a very small profit if you buy a book through one of my links.


27 thoughts on “Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

  1. I have about 150 pages left in this book and it is picking up for me. I hope to devote a large part of this evening to finishing it. I will admit, the middle of the book has been a bit lagging for me. I suppose this is due, in part, to the fact that Waters' other novels (at least those that I have read) are very plot driven, whereas The Little Stranger, like you said, creeps up on you. I will be interested to see how I feel about this book once I finish it and have had time to digest it.

  2. I've seen other bloggers review this one and say that it doesn't stand up to her other books, but personally I loved it. It is creepy and fascinating and about so many different things! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Great review!

  3. I had said I would start with Fingersmith, but after reading your review, I'm tempted to turn to my Nook and download this one RIGHT NOW. It sounds just perfect and like something that would grab me by the hair and totally engulf me. I love the picture of your copy. Beautifully worn!

  4. Well, you have certainly convinced this reader, Heather! In fact, before I even got through your whole post, I'd dashed off and added it to all my wish lists and checked our library's website for it. 🙂 Like Andi, I had told myself I was going to start with a different one of her books (though in my case, it was going to be The Night Watch), but you just completely sold me on starting with this one!

  5. Waters is a master at evoking a sense of time and place. Although I think I'm the other person in the world that didn't appreciate the creepiness in this one. Still, I loved the post-war era that she created.

  6. You have definitely wet my appetite for this one. I recently read Fingersmith and couldn't get over it. I rarely find a book that captivates AND surprises me at the same time. I'm quite sure I will love The Little Stranger also.

  7. Now you've done it–this book will sit calling to me while I'm trying to read the 750 pages of the book I'm reading now. It will be calling to me while I read this month's book club read. It will be calling me through the readathon while I'm trying to get a bunch of other books finished. But then…oh then, I'm definitely picking it up!

  8. Oh you have me DYING to read this one!!! And it's the only book of hers that I DON'T own!! But my time is coming up soon for it on Paperback Swap 😀 Yay!!! Can't wait to read it!! Oh Heather, you just have to read Fingersmith!! You're going to love it!

  9. I am petrified to read anything of Waters, even though I have two of her novels. EVERYONE thinks she's brilliant so I have this absurd expectation that I'll open her book and be a changed woman. I don't want to be disappointed. One day I'll find the nerve…

  10. Thoughts where reviewers are "tripping over their own feet," as you say, are often some of my favorites! Your love of this one is enough to convince me to pick it up, even without a vast knowledge of the plot. You're right: it's often better to come into a book with as little preconceptions of what it's about as possible. On that note, it's going on the wishlist!

  11. Now I'm dying to read this one, too!! I've only read one by Waters (The Night Watch) and I have a few of her earlier books on my shelves, but this is going to have to be the one I read next. Fantastic review, Heather.

    Oh, and I know what you mean about trying to write a review for a masterpiece. I felt the same way about Emma Donoghue's Room. Loved, loved, loved that book!!!

  12. Oh Heather, I'm sort of skimming your review just because I'm hoping to start this one up in the next few days. I can't wait – I've read two of her books and I've loved them so I know I'll be in for something good.

    I just had to comment though because I love the pic you took! 🙂

  13. I will definitely read this one (and hopefully soon). Sounds just as good as another gothic tale I just read (ARC of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton). I love a good, creepy read!

  14. YEAAAAAA!!!! I live in Massachusetts and myself and MANY people I know are voting for Scott Brown. Its time we send a message to the idiots in Washington. Funny, wheres the Massacusetts idiot John Kerry been???? I live in Mass and havent seen him ONCE on local channels. Another thing, we have been deluged with TV ads..for every bashing Coakley ad follows anonbashing Brown ad getting out there and being a real guy. Please other Mass peopleLETS DO THIS RIGHT!!!!! EVERYONE IS DEPENDING ON US!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *