Title: The Little Stranger
Author: Sarah Waters
Year of Publication: 2009
Genre Keywords: British, gothic, haunted house, mystery, post-war, psychological thriller, suspense.
Summary: Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that Dr. Faraday becomes involved with the Ayres family living up at Hundreds Hall, where his mother used to work as a nursemaid years ago. The house’s inhabitants are the latest in a long and aristocratic family line: the aging Mrs. Ayres and her two grown children, plain and practical Caroline and shell-shocked Roderick. They work hard to keep the crumbling house afloat, but the days of the aristocracy in Britain have passed. That’s problem enough for any family of British squires, but gradually Dr. Faraday starts to see some particularly strange things unfolding at Hundreds Hall, troubling the family and leaving human tragedy in their wake. Is Hundreds haunted by a ghost? Or by the unstable minds of its own inhabitants?
Who’ll Love It: Fans of a good, atmospheric ghost story will want to wrap themselves up in a nice warm blanket and share this story with a biscuit and a spot of tea – perhaps a good roaring fire if possible. It’s also a fascinating read for anyone who’s interested in the human mind and abnormal psychology. Be warned, though, that this is not the kind of story with a strong and firm conclusion at the end, telling you whether you can chalk up the experiences at Hundreds to ghosts, crazy people, or rats living in the walls. You will be left to draw that conclusion for yourself.
A Wealth of Possibilities: There are so many possible explanations suggested in this particular story, you could probably read it a half-dozen times or more, looking each time for supporting evidence for a wide range of explanations for the Ayres’ troubles. A ghost is the most obvious reading, but even within that there are so many subcategories: demon? poltergeist? ancient ancestor? Caroline and Roderick’s dead sister? Is Roderick generating these phenomena subconsciously as a result of his wartime trauma? Or is Caroline manifesting it to escape from her duties to her family? Is the maid a prankster flying under the radar and destroying the family from within? Is the house itself to blame? A family curse? Or perhaps, as Scully (and Doctor Faraday) would suggest, there’s got to be a logical explanation. I leave it to you, dear reader, to ferret out the truth.