Ghost stories are wonderful things. I’ll clarify this — for the people that love them. I am one of those people. The tension, build up, agony of long held secrets finally revealed; I love it all. The promise of a ghost, or something akin to one, was the reason I read The Little Stranger. Unfortunately, for me, it was not to be a long lasting love.
Dr. Faraday once visited Hundreds Hall, a now crumbling mansion and estate, as a child. His mother, a former servant at the Hall, took him inside and he has always held on to this one shining memory. Now a country doctor, he passes by the Hall frequently on patient calls. One day he is called to the Hall to treat a sick maid and quickly becomes infatuated with the place and its owners, the Ayres. Roderick, wounded in the War, is struggling to keep Hundreds Hall afloat, his sister Caroline, a spinster proud of her current unmarried state, helps with the running of the estate but mostly entertains her mother, Mrs. Ayres. Faraday becomes obsessed not only with Hundreds Hall but with Caroline. When an incident occurs during a cocktail party and a young girl is injured, rumors about the old house and its owners start swirling. Faraday, deep in his obsession, is unable to walk away for the place or the people that inhabit it.
Creepy old house. Check. Eccentric people. Check. Unreliable narrator. Check again. All the elements were there. All the elements failed me. The malcontent that seeps from the pages was just that boring. When the events, creepy I suppose they were supposed to be, began, I didn’t look for other explanations. I sighed. It wasn’t there for me.
*Warning: this is spoilery.* I really want to talk about the narrator, Faraday. I said he was unreliable and I expect that in a ghost story. You want someone who is not quite sure what is going on. She/he doesn’t understand the history, the people, etc. That was true here too — while Faraday really wants to be one of the Ayres, he’s not — but he tries to sneak his way in. Usually I would be all right with this but he became the obsessed person content to diagnose everyone else as mentally unstable when I think he was the one to watch. Bait and switch is fine but I began to dislike Faraday intensely for what he was doing to this family. To me, he seemed to believe that his one trip there as a child qualified him to tell its owners and inhabitants what they should think and feel. One by one he sends them away. When his engagement to Caroline falls apart, he, who had been picturing himself as the new manager of Hundreds Hall, attempts to find a doctor and lawyer who will counteract him and say that Caroline is in fact not in her right mind. Really, he was just a bastard. By the end of the book I was disgusted for him and that he spent the rest of his sad days drowning in an alcohol induced sleep didn’t bother me one bit. This doesn’t happen by the way, I just wanted it to.
Now, I feel I’ve been harsh and I’m sure there are many of you out there that loved this book. Found it atmospheric. Found it a good read. I didn’t. Not that I need to state that now but my disappointment stems from the fact that I really wanted to enjoy this book and I didn’t. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept it as anything other than a ghost story and I couldn’t appreciate the nuance.
As readers, we come across books that don’t stand up to our expectations. There was nothing wrong with this book other than my not enjoying it. It happens and it makes me wonder if I missed something in the reading but then I remind myself that I don’t need to, and will not, love every book I read. That was the case here.
Did you read it? What are your thoughts? I know there are many people out there that loved/enjoyed this book hence the adding it my list. I still plan to read Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith or maybe Affinity. I think she does decaying aristocracy well and I want to make sure I give a fair shot to her other works.
The Little Stranger
By Sarah Waters