Monday, 17 September 2012
Devouring Books: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger. And I have so little to say about it. I just... I can see from afar why this would technically be scary (and I have to admit I had a few moments of 'oooh... creepy', but not many) and I also get the whole 'rich people's way of life changing and so they turn that into a scary scary ghost' thing, but I didn't necessarily think it was that compelling, and overall the whole book just fell flat for me. I'm going to try to explain this (there will be a spoiler section at the end for fellow readalongers cause I WANT ANSWERS TO SOMETHING, but first, a spoiler-free moan).
So, The Little Stranger is all about the crumbling upper classes, and the rising middle class, and there are all these symbols like the crumbling house representing the state of the rich people, and there's class envy and mild hatred and so on and so on, and it's all very clever but also kind of tedious, as well. See, Dr Faraday is a sort of local boy done good; the child of servants who has risen to be a doctor who isn't really rich but is well respected, and his rise has corresponded with the fall of the upper classes, and the two collide when he's called out to the big manor house to treat the people who he both admires and sort of hates.
So, let's talk about Dr Faraday. Who I don't really like, which is never fun with a first person narrator. When all the ghostly things start happening (finally start happening, I should say) Dr Faraday is extremely dismissive of them (as, I suppose, a man of science kind of should be) and this made it way less creepy for me. It's like... The scary thing would begin to be described, and I'd get a tiny bit freaked out, and then the Dr would come in and be like 'oh, it was probably just the wind' 'Don't worry, she's just INSANE' and it kind of took the wind out of its scary sails for me. I understand that you're probably supposed to go 'Oh, well the Doctor is clearly WRONG, look at the scary haunted house' but, even though I didn't really like him? I totally sympathised with him.
Because I can't sympathise with the English upper-classes, I'm sorry I just can't do it! They're depicted as sort of helpless and and the mercy of the EVIL Labour government (poor rich people) and just completely unable to think of anything to do (like, I don't know, get jobs) to raise some funds and attempt to go on living in the manner to which they've become accustomed, and so instead just crumble in their crumbling house and do nothing. So, frankly, when the haunting started, I didn't really care about what was going to happen to them because of their irritating helplessness. I realise this may make me kind of heartless, but come on! They're TORIES!
So, anyway. I liked this a lot less than Tipping The Velvet, which is the only other Waters book I've read, but I DO applaud her doing different things and not just falling back on controversial lesbian relationships all the time (I assume she does this in more than just Tipping The Velvet... If not, then fair enough for making all her books all different!) although Dr Faraday being a woman? Definitely would have spiced this book up a bit. I will just add that I DID like the ending (which I'm going to discuss in the spoilers!) so that redeemed this book a bit. But not really enough.
So. Do we totally think the ghost is some kind of malevolent force coming off of Dr Faraday because of his possessiveness over the house? I think yes. I mean, for most of the book I just assumed it was the child who died (as I guess we were obviously supposed to), but maybe this brutal part of Dr F just took the form of whoever would affect the hauntee the most? And also, just before Caroline's death, when she said 'YOU!' do we think that she saw Dr F? Because I feel like she would be horrified to see him there, and also maybe his physical presence near the house encouraged the spirit to take its proper form. AND did the Doctor unwittingly help the spirit by, for example, sending Roderick away, and by not staying with Mrs Ayres. But what would have happened if he'd stayed in the house? Would nothing have happened so as not to alert him that he was a big part of this, or would the spirit have used him for something, and everyone sensed this and wouldn't let him stay? OR did the fact that they wouldn't let him stay anger him, and so his spirit, and made those things happen at those times?
As you can see, I have a lot of questions, which makes me think that I maybe didn't dislike this as much as I first thought. Or that the ending gave me a lot to think about. And I will say just this about it: Who ends up with the house in the end, and finds out that all that glitters is not gold? Exactly.