I like scaring myself through film and literature. So when my friend lent me a stack of books which included Sarah Waters' Gothic The Little Stranger but reminded me to save it for last, I didn't listen at all. Its eerie mood beckoned to me more than the other books and I went with it willingly.
The Little Stranger is told through the eyes of Dr. Faraday, a country doctor who finds himself called to Hundreds Hall to treat a young servant. Dr. Faraday has been to Hundreds Hall before as a young boy treated to a rare meal at the sprawling estate while his mother helped serve food, and the state of ruin that the ancestral home is in astounds him. There he meets the once-wealthy Ayres -- the aging mother who still clings to the ways of her class and her children, level-headed spinster Caroline and young war-ravaged Roderick. Dr. Faraday is drawn back to Hundreds Hall and the Ayres and soon he realizes that the estate's secrets and mysteries have only begun to stir.
Ms Waters sets the tone for The Little Stranger in such a confident and polished manner that post-World War II Britain becomes the perfect backdrop for the struggles of a slowly declining genteel family. There seems an overall greyness just haunting each scene that seeps through the pages. The Ayres are not an easy family to relate to, but there is something in their fragile state and their complex relationships towards each other that moved me. But let's not forget that this book is a thriller. Ms Waters uses seemingly mundane things (like scratches and stains on the wall) and creates chilling circumstances that can send shivers down the spine of any imaginative reader.
I can go on and on about the strengths of this book but I will have to stop myself in case I reveal too much. At its heart, The Little Stranger is a mystery in the vein of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and it knows how to withhold its secrets until the final pages.