I don’t know why I read books like The Little Stranger. I am a total chicken but I love scary books! This was the scariest that I’ve read in a long time and I’m very happy that I read most of this by the light of day and not at night. There are some truly terrifying scenes and I was amazed by the way that Waters let this story unfurl. I’d tried to read this several years ago and didn’t get much further than the opening scene, but I’m trying to read as many Gothic stories as I can get my hands on right now, so I pulled this one up from the pile of documents in my kindle and tried again. Once I got about 10% into it, I was hooked.
Set just after WWII, Hundreds Hall is one of those classic British estates that is crumbling around the family living within it. Generations before, the Ayres family was swimming in wealth. Now, they’ve had to let most of their household staff go and Mrs. Ayres, along with her two grown children, Caroline and Roderick, are living lives steeped in debt and worry.
The narrator of this novel is Dr. Faraday, who’s mother used to work as a nanny at Hundreds Hall. He’s called into Hundreds to check in on Betty, the maid that has recently moved in and is complaining of wretched stomach pain. While there, he gets acquainted with the Ayres family and through happy coincidences, becomes a frequent visitor and very close friend to the family.
As he gets to know the family, he realizes that strange things sometimes happen in the house. The first alarming incident is at a dinner party – it’s a ghastly accident that scars an attendee in a tragic way. Then, mysterious little burn marks start appearing throughout the house. Roderick, who was injured during the war and is the person primarily burdened with the upkeep of the property, slowly goes mad. Mrs. Ayres is certain that her first born daughter who died as a young child, Susan, is still in the house with them. Caroline is haunted by the past of the house and with trying to keep her family safe.
As we see this family struggle with the modernization of society, we see the tragedy that befalls them when they try to cling on tightly to the past. Or is it the opposite? Does this family want so badly to move forward and be done with the old ways, but it’s the house that won’t let them move on?
Please, please – if you love ghost stories or Gothic tales and haven’t read this one, then you must! The descriptions alone are dazzling; there’s something so romantic about living in a house that is eroding by the minute. I caught myself fantasizing about what it must have been like before it started disintegrating – fabulous antique furniture and rows and rows of leather bound books? Why can’t my home be filled with such? But if it means living with the little stranger that wreaked havoc at Hundreds Hall, then I’ll pass. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.