The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

the little stranger The Little Stranger

by Sarah Waters

I’ve been hanging onto this book for a while.  As it’s a spooky story, I meant to read it last October in the spirit of Halloween, but forgot, so I saved it for this October.  I’ve read two other novels by Sarah Waters – Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith – and so loved both of those that I looked forward to The Little Stranger with great anticipation.  Unfortunately, I must admit that I was disappointed.

Set in post-WWII England, the story is narrated by Dr. Faraday, a middle-aged bachelor and country doctor from humble, working-class roots.  In his childhood, the county was still enthralled with Hundreds Hall, a majestic estate dating back to the 1700s and inhabited by the well-to-do, aristocratic Ayres family.  The story opens with Dr. Faraday recalling a community event at Hundreds Hall when he was ten years old, and how shortly afterwards, tragedy struck the Ayres family and they retired from public life.  Over the next three decades, the mostly reclusive Ayres family loses its fortune and Hundreds Hall itself falls into disrepair and decline.

One spring day nearly thirty years after his one childhood visit to Hundreds Hall, Dr. Faraday is called out to the estate to treat an ailing housemaid, who is really just frightened by the old, lonely house and is convinced that it’s haunted.  Brushing off the girl’s rantings as silly nonsense, Dr. Faraday begins visiting the estate regularly and becomes quite entangled with what remains of the family: the aging Mrs. Ayres, and her adult children, Caroline and Roderick.  His growing involvement with the family begins as their family doctor, and evolves into family friend, and finally he becomes romantically involved with Caroline.  Over the course of not quite a year, the house continues its decline and strange things begin happening.  Always intent on remaining rational, Dr. Faraday comes up with an explanation for every weird thing that happens, and inevitably, things take a sinister turn.  The family is convinced that the house itself is “infected,” and out to get them – that some malevolent force is at work and intent on destroying the family.

It’s an interesting story, but I felt very much that it lacked the brilliant plot lines Waters crafted in Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith.  It dragged quite a bit; the story didn’t really become compelling to me until about two-thirds of the way through, and even then, I was left feeling unsatisfied when I turned the last page.  Also, Dr. Faraday himself is not an extremely likeable character. I was often annoyed at him; maybe the reader is meant to be, I’m not sure.  There is no doubt that Waters has an exceptional gift for prose, but I didn’t feel that this story showcased what she’s really capable of.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

At the heart of this old-fashioned thriller is Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth and raised by Mrs Sucksby in her thieves’ den in a slum in mid-nineteenth century London.  Sue, a petty thief – or “fingersmith” – herself, is nonetheless likeable.  Along comes Gentleman, a suave con man and sometime member of this ragtag “family,” with a proposal for Sue that’s impossible to resist: secure a position as lady’s maid to Maud Lilly, a young heiress living out in the country with her eccentric uncle, help Gentlemen woo her, and in the end steal away with her fortune and dispose of the heiress in a lunatic asylum.

As the pages turn, however, the question is raised again and again: who’s really screwing whom?  And who, in the end, will get the Lilly fortune?

Dark and mesmerizing, this story has it all: murder, baby-selling, swindling, escapes, lunatics, hangings, forbidden pleasures, and a sprawling, isolated, decaying mansion.  Completely engrossing and entertaining, the scenes, settings, and characters spring to life from the pages.  I could hear the conversations, feel the damp chill of the air, and see the colors, shadows and shapes rendered by Ms Waters.

This is the second book by Sarah Waters I’ve read, the first being Tipping the Velvet.  She is absolutely one of my new favorite authors; I’m only sorry it took me this long to discover her fabulous work.  I’m adding the rest of her books to my to-read list – she’s some story teller.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Continuing my quest for quality smut . . .

Set in late nineteenth-century England, we are introduced to young Nancy Astley, narrator of this story, who lives with and is well-loved by her working-class family who run an oyster shop in Whitstable.  One fateful evening, Nancy attends a show at a local music hall where she lays eyes for the first time on Kitty Butler, a masher upon the stage – and Nancy is forever changed.  She becomes entranced by Kitty, and a friendship of sorts blossoms between the two, and it’s not long before Nancy leaves her family to seek her fortune, along with Kitty, in London.  The two become secret lovers and a huge success together on the stage of theaters and music halls throughout London – until Kitty breaks Nancy’s heart.  This is only the beginning, however, of Nancy’s adventures, both sexual and otherwise, which range from tender to violent – at times nearly tragic, and often bawdy and hilarious.  More story than sex, the sex scenes are, however, very ribald and graphic – and yes, many of them are lesbian scenes, for this is a story of lesbianism.  Don’t go getting all squeamish – anyone who is a fan of a good story, regardless of sexual orientation, will appreciate this book.

What I also loved about this book, aside from the stellar story-telling, is the fact that it’s smutty without being to the detriment of anyone’s person.  Not that Nancy doesn’t stumble along the way, or is never victimized, but for the most part, she takes her fate into her own hands and owns it.

Filled with wonderfully developed, colorful characters and well-described scenes and settings, I was transported when reading this to a different time and place – I could see the colors and smell the aromas and hear the people.  In the end, this is a love story – and let me just say that I’m usually too much a cynic to appreciate love stories, but this one left a tear in my eye.  I was sorry to read the last sentence of the book and will miss the characters now.  Sarah Waters is a gifted story-teller, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more of her work.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, “tipping the velvet” is Victorian slang for cunnilingus 😉