Friday, October 9

Sarah Water: The Little Stranger

When a doctor is called to attend one of the servants at the local manor house he is surprised to find not the glamorous Georgian mansion of his childhood memories but a dilapidated post war residence inhabited by a family not quite coping with changing society.
As his acquaintance with the family grows he becomes privy to their dark secrets. The war-wounded son, reluctant lord of the manor, claims to be plagued by a ‘presence’ in the night. The elderly mother is tormented, mentally and physically, by the memory of her first-born’s tragic childhood death. The servants complain about ghostly goings on. Even the solid and dependable daughter thinks there might be more to the house than meets the eye.
But the doctor is a man of science and logic. He simply can’t believe all that the family are telling him. And yet, he can’t completely dismiss it either.
And here I can not be more explicit without spoilers.
Set in early post world war II Britain, on the surface this is a story of a once proud and powerful family now in decline. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, almost a little too slowly at times. The individual ‘spooky’ elements are not particularly scary but cumulatively they give a not-quite-right feeling that is far more effective in creating creepiness in this context than more overt horror would have been. I would have liked to see more made of this aspect of the story. In many ways the decision not to expand upon the haunting elements was an opportunity missed.
The characters felt true to the time. So much so that I found myself actively disliking them on some occasions, while pitying them on others but I never really connected to any of them. I think the back story of the main characters would have added an interesting dimension to the book and made it easier to identify with them.
The twist ending was at once both disappointing and intriguing.
This book has the feel of a traditional Victorian gothic while maintaining a distinct literary flavour. While it is far from the best I have read, it is the first book in many years that has me thinking about the central themes and wanting to dissect the story in order to find out what really went on. Speculation abounds-Lynn

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