Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Little Stranger

Sarah Waters ended up with three books in this year's challenge, and I have already read Fingersmith.  Because she is one of the most readable authors left, and so much of my mental energy is being diverted, and my time for pleasure reading is virtually nil,  I picked up The Little Stranger.


This isn't Victorian-era Sarah Waters, but it is still very much rooted in her strengths.  Emotional tension, uncomfortable moments, plots that will never work out happily ever after, ambivalence about absolutely every character.  Not a single one is completely sympathetic, and there is no obvious bad guy.

You have the actual horrors of the time period.  The great halls of England falling to pieces as the great families don't have the money for upkeep and servants.  The awkwardness of upper class families  trying to maintain their social status while selling off their land and possessions to survive.  The trauma the World Wars inflicted on England.  And then pair those real, historical problems with the horrors of a house that seems to want to kill its residents - a family who is far from perfect but doesn't deserve their fates.

In a lot of reviews I saw, people were angry because the ending is ambiguous.  But, it isn't, at least I don't think so.  Throughout the book, you try to work out the root of the "evil" happenings in Hundreds Hall, and you really aren't sure.  But by the end, there's only one source left, and he shares his name with the father of electromagnetism.  At that point, it's holy obvious poltergeist, Batman.

Other people complained that it wasn't very scary.  I think that depends on how you like your horror.  I found very little gore, but plenty of out and out creepiness. I tend to think the best horror comes out of authors like this, who weave it subtly in to everyday life.  Particularly at the beginning, where everything seems mundane, and then insanity emerges in small doses and doesn't let go.

Final Call:
Waters is just a great author and you should read this.  Maybe around Halloween, I wish I had waited.  It's the perfect mood for a dreary fall day.

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