Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

This is the third Sarah Waters book I’ve read this year, the other two being Affinity and Fingersmith, and I think this one is my favourite. I seem to be in the minority though, as I’ve seen some very mixed reviews of this book.

The Little Stranger is set in Warwickshire just after the end of World War II. When Dr Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, home of the Ayres family, to treat their young maid, he can’t help noticing that the house has deteriorated since he was last there as a boy. Striking up a friendship with Mrs Ayres and her daughter Caroline, Dr Faraday begins to spend more and more time at Hundreds – and becomes involved in a series of increasingly strange and terrifying events.

This is a typical haunted house story, yet it was psychologically fascinating, very suspenseful – and genuinely spooky. I always find poltergeist-type phenomena very disturbing to read about and there’s plenty of that in this book, from moving furniture and inexplicable fires, to tapping noises, ringing telephones and mysterious handwriting that appears on the walls. I had to avoid reading this book late at night because I knew it would scare me if I did!

I have said before that I think one area where Sarah Waters really excels is in creating believable and vivid settings for her stories. She has done this to perfection in the two Victorian novels that I’ve read, and does it again here with her portrayal of life in post-war Britain – the class system, the economy, housing, medical care and the introduction of the NHS.

Another thing I loved about this book is that it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on, which allows the reader to be a detective. Is Hundreds Hall really haunted? Is there a rational explanation for the supernatural occurrences? Or is someone playing a cruel trick? And if it is a trick, who is responsible for it? I think I suspected every character at some point in the novel! Then there’s Hundreds itself, which is almost a character in its own right – perhaps the most important ‘character’ in the book. It seems to be symbolic that as the house falls further into neglect and disrepair, the Ayres family themselves begin to fall apart one by one.

I was hoping that by the end of the story everything would become clear. However, after finishing the book I am still no closer to knowing exactly what had happened at Hundreds than I was at the beginning. The final few chapters of the book are very ambiguous and leave the story open to interpretation. It was slightly frustrating not to be given all the answers, but in the end it didn’t really matter because the story was wonderful anyway – and even a few days later I’m still thinking about it and wondering whether I’ve interpreted things correctly.

Unless you really don’t like ghost stories, I would recommend The Little Stranger as a great, spooky read, perfect for the RIP challenge or for Halloween.

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24 responses

  1. I think I am going to start this one as soon as I finish my current book!

    1. I hope you enjoy it!

  2. Ive done a complete turn around on this book. When I first read it I gave it a 3/5 but I really think that now Id give it 5/5 – it has really grown on me since I read it.

    1. I wasn’t too sure about the book at first, but halfway through I really started to enjoy it. I’m glad you think it deserves 5/5 :)

  3. I think it is very difficult for em to like a book with open endings!
    But this is one of many authors I have been meaning to try.

    Thanks for a great review.

    1. Yes, I think the open ending would be a problem for a lot of readers. I usually prefer books with a proper conclusion too, but I didn’t mind being left to make up my own mind about this one.

  4. I’m very much looking forward to reading something else by Sarah Waters as Fingersmith did not work for me (because I didn’t like the characters). She’s a wonderful writer – even in the book I didn’t like, I could see that – but I need to read something where the protagonists aren’t criminals! This one, Tipping the Velvet, and The Night Watch have been suggested to me. Pretty much anything but Affinity, I suppose!

    1. I hope one of her other books will work for you better than Fingersmith did. I liked Affinity but you should definitely avoid that one if you don’t like reading about criminals!

  5. I’m looking forward to reading anything by Sarah Waters after reading Fingersmith :) I didn’t read through your whole review, since I hope to read this myself at some point in the future. I’m surprised you liked this one best though, most seem to like her WW2 books less.

    1. Yes, I’ve noticed that most people do seem to prefer her Victorian books. I wasn’t expecting to like this one as much as I did!

  6. I am expected to be reading this soon. I hope I like it, too! I have read Fingersmith and The Night Watch, but I am supposed to read Affinity this year, too!

    1. I hope you enjoy both this book and Affinity when you get round to reading them!

  7. I read Fingersmith and really liked it and the Little Stranger is on it’s way to me in the mail as I write this! Glad it ‘s such a good book!

    1. The Little Stranger is a very different book to Fingersmith, but I actually enjoyed it more. I hope you like it too!

  8. It’s a great book isn’t it? I had exactly the same thoughts about the end too – I really wanted it wrapped up but I suppose it does keep the book in your mind because it’s not. Definitely a good ghost book for this time of year.

    1. Yes, it definitely leaves you with a lot to think about after finishing the book. I was disappointed that I didn’t find out whether my suspicions were correct or not, though!

  9. I haven’t got to Sarah Waters yet and not sure which to start with when I do. I like the sound of this though, however an open ending… well I guess the only way to know about that would be to read it!

    1. Fingersmith might be the best one to start with, as it seems to be most people’s favourite. This one was excellent though and would be my recommendation. :)

  10. I recently read this one too and it’s become my favourite Sarah Waters novel so far. I loved the ambiguity of the tale and I think that the open ending was necessary. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    1. It’s good to see someone else name this one as their favourite too. I still have Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch to read though, so maybe I’ll like one of those two even better.

  11. This book reminded me of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw where the horror is never explained but it tricks the reader’s mind into imagining their own horror.

    The ending still annoys me but I remember commenting on another review…

    [SPOILERS BELOW!!!!]

    that I think the doctor subconsciously did the ‘haunting’ and the murders. He was so obsessed with the house and with his status.

    [END SPOILERS!!!]

    1. I think you could be right, Mae – though we’ll probably never know for sure.

  12. Great review! I didn’t like this book a lot. It was OK, but I hated how it didn’t have a proper resolution and I found the story a little boring. Fingersmith I loved, though! :-)

    1. Sorry you didn’t like this one much. It does seem to be a book that divides opinions. I’ve just borrowed The Night Watch from the library, and I can’t wait to see what I think of that one!

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