I do like ghost stories and I love horror. I like chill that runs down my spine as I read, but I don’t like to be scared after I finish a book. I don’t like the feeling when I’m lying in my bed that something is wrong. I don’t like feeling like closing my eyes is risky. To fight off this fact, I mainly read horror and ghost stories in the summer. The chill can’t stay for too long then, and the sun scares off all the murky thoughts from staying for too long.
I have to mention that I have loved the Sarah Waters novels that are set in the Victorian era, especially Fingersmith. It was thrilling and filled with crazy twists and turns. Waters seems to love exploring different genres each time she writes. I knew when I picked up The Little Stranger that it wasn’t set in the underbelly of the Victorian era, but instead in the grubby reality of post-WWII Britain. The gentry, or the upper classthat has been falling apart since Jane Austen’s time is finally in the death throws, and part of the fear of the novel comes from the realisation that something real is finally dying off. The Little Stranger is set at dilapidated Hundreds Hall, where the matriarch and her two children are somehow still there. Roderick was injured in the war, and is having a hard time being the master of a falling-apart house. Caroline is a rather plain girl who doesn’t mind having the take care of the house almost completely by herself; in this time and place, she’s considered a spinster.
The story is told by Dr Faraday, an older bachelor who gets called down to the house one day to see to the maid, but gets entangled with the Ayres and the mysterious goings on in the house. Scorch marks are left in strange places, strange noises happen in the night, sweet and gentle dogs turn vicious and Roderick thinks that something is infecting the house and its inhabitants.
The horrors are not extreme, and Dr Faraday is able to rationalise away them all, but that’s not the point. The ghostly/ghastly occurrences appear to reflect the world outside of Hundreds. There is no place for the Ayres in the new society that is emerging after the war, and they realise it. The house just seems to reflect it back on them. Dr Faraday isn’t much help because he doesn’t seem to have any sense of self-reflection. His own mother used to work at the house, and he has always felt a strong connection to the house because of it. Instead of telling the Ayres to sell the place, he believes that things will work out in the end, without having any thoughts of how or why.
Now I just want to state my personal pet theory about the novel because I would love to know if anyone feels the same about it. Obviously, there is no one true answer, Waters likes to be ambiguous. I just had a feeling as I read that I need to sort through. So SPOILERS ahead after the jump
Caroline’s theory that the ghost is a manifestation of Rod’s psychological state doesn’t sit too well with me. The amount of things that occur when he is miles and miles away and not bringing any energy to the house is too large for that to be true in my mind. Instead, I think that Dr Faraday’s despair about the failures of his life, and his desire for the house are the actual starting points for the manifestation. I feel like things only get bad when he realises that Caroline is trying to get married, taking away his only chance for a connection to the house. I don’t think he ever loves Caroline, but he loves the possibility of the house and being connected to it, so he seems to chase off the other people (Mrs Ayres, Rod) who would prevent him from possessing it. He’s always dreaming of it, which I think explains the telephone calls in the middle of the night. But that’s just me. If anyone has other thoughts about it, please speak up in the comments. I need to debate this!