Book review: ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Watters


Hundreds Hall was a grand old mansion, a park (gardens and green space that were fenced in) and extensive farmland beyond that. It was one of the few estates that remained in England after the Second World War; it was a remnant of when gentlemen lived on the family’s accrued income and the rental of their land holdings. By the time the war ended, Hundreds Hall was in a state of advanced deterioration and much of the land had been sold to make ends meet.

Dr. Faraday had first been at Hundreds as a 10-year-old boy in the company of his mother, who had been a nursery maid there. Now Colonel Ayres and his eldest daughter, Susan, were dead, and servants were a thing of the past — well, nearly, anyway. The reason Dr. Faraday was here was that the sole servant girl, Betty, was ill with what turned out to be an advanced case of homesickness. While determining that, Dr. Faraday found that the large old house was considerably at fault. “Oh, Doctor, it isn’t a proper house at all … Everything’s jumpy, in this house.” After a pep talk with Betty, Dr. Faraday prescribed medicine for an upset stomach and encouraged the Ayres to be supportive.

The Ayres family now consisted of Mrs. Ayres, the colonel’s widow, and her children, Rodrick and Carolyn. Roderick had been badly wounded in the war, and Carolyn had been called home to help her mother. Along with Roderick’s physical damage, there was a mental component. Both maladies were now under control, and Roderick was managing the dismal fortunes of Hundreds Hall.

Dr. Faraday took a real interest in Roderick’s injured leg because he had some background in decreasing leg pain using electrical current. While making his weekly visits to assist Roderick, he got to know both Carolyn and Mrs. Ayres. In fact, he was considered enough of a family friend to be invited to the few social functions at Hundreds at the present time.

It was at a dinner for some of the neighbors that the first really strange event took place. Gyp, the elderly family dog, severely bit the neighbor’s young son in the face. This was totally out of character for Gyp. At the same time, Roderick suffered such a frightening experience in his room that he had been unable to attend the dinner. In addition, he believed he had indirectly caused the child’s injury, as he had angrily ordered the offending spirit to leave his room. He felt that the spirit had then upset the dog. It’s now that Dr. Faraday begins to sense what Roderick and Betty feel. Hundreds Hall wants something; while it’s not clear what, it does not seem to bode well for the Ayres.

Things only get worse for Roderick. There is a fire in his room that he is suspected of setting. The pressure Roderick is under seems to have broken him, and Dr. Faraday finally realizes that he will have to be institutionalized. Eventually the dismal circumstances get to Mrs. Ayres; she gives up and hangs herself.

There is a subplot. Dr. Faraday has fallen for Carolyn, and the romance has progressed. Whatever has possessed the house seems to be satisfied as it has now settled down. So much so that the doctor is envisioning living there after the wedding. The questions are, has Hundreds Hall really been satisfied, and is that really what’s been going on?

In my opinion, there are much better titles for “The Little Stranger.” Read the book and let me know your thoughts on the matter.

Comments are closed.

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