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.
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I think we're meant to be full of questions after turning the last page ;) I'm not much a fan of this book either. It makes sense that the dead child is not the haunting ghost, because, why would she otherwise not have shown up earlier?ReplyDelete
Yeah, upper class kids. I did feel that Roderick and Caroline were helping where they could :s But yes, a real job would probably have helped their money go a longer way.
This is so true. The 'little girl ghost' theory was a bit of a red herring, I think. Although she was the first thing I thought of when I was like 'ooh, what is it?' (when I could muster up enough enthusiasm to care, that is.)Delete
I think Rod and Caroline were definitely trying to help, and I'm almost definitely being too harsh on them, but I found it SO hard to care! And it felt like the only reason Dr F cared was cause he didn't want the house torn down. Which makes my theory waaay more plausible :)
didn't really love this one either. It wasn't scary, though a few parts were creepy. I do think it must be something to do with Faraday, but I can't logically see how (as if ghosts are logical. Ha!).ReplyDelete
I agree with you about the Ayres. I don't have sympathy for the rich when they moan about crap like this. Seriously. Get over it. Other people are much worse off. Cry me a river. Boo freaking hoo.
There were a very few parts that creeped me out a bit, and there was one time after reading it where I heard a noise in my house and was kind of like '...oh dear', but I like to be way more scared than I was!Delete
And yeah. Can't really get behind the 'poor Ayres's' (how do you pluralise that?!) thing cause, well, Caroline was going to have enough money to move to Canada, ffs! Stupid book.
I'm not sure I like or dislike the Ayers -- I feel a little pity for them as they face the inevitable fall from wealth. But mostly I'm indifferent to Rod and Mrs. Ayers. I cheer a bit for Caroline near the end when she stands up to Faraday. It's really that I feel so strongly about how awful and cloying Faraday is that I'm pleased she finally tells him to get out of her house.ReplyDelete
I'd have to say that I dislike Caroline the least out of all the characters, so yeah, it is pretty pleasing when she stands up to Faraday. But other than that, i feel so apathetic towards the characters that it's just like... meh!Delete
Hrmmm, I have this book on loan from the library at home, and it is so. large. I will start it, but from your review it sounds like it has the potential to be a dnf'er. Are you happy you read it, even if you didn't enjoy it during?ReplyDelete
Honestly? Not really. Like... I really did like the end cause I was like 'ooh, intriguing', but it didn't really make up for the lack of ANYTHING INTERESTING happening in the whole rest of the book. I probably would have DNF'ed it if I hadn't been reading it in a readalong, and since it wasn't one of our readalongs I kind of think I should have!Delete
Having said that, it does read quite quickly, so... I'd definitely give it a try if I was you. You might like it... Maybe...
I like all your questions at the end. I think the ectoplasmless spirit was the longing of Dr. F. to be a part of that house. I think if he and Caroline had eloped and he had moved in, then the ghostly pranks would have stopped and perhaps some type of bliss would have befallen the Ayres family.ReplyDelete
I had a very similar reaction (I read it a while ago now, so memory is a little fuzzy). I couldn't sympathise with the poor diddums rich folk but Dr F didn't win me over either. I liked the clues toward the end about Dr F's unreliableness but in general it was too clever, not enough atmosphere.ReplyDelete
I liked the author's writing style but didn't like the ending - in fact it just annoyed me! It's definitely not her best works and I just came away from the experience feeling disappointed which was a shame.ReplyDelete