Monday, 8 February 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Virago 2009).

Set in 1948, Dr Faraday is the son of working class stock who one evening is called out to the Hundreds Hall, the seat of the Ayres family, the estate where his mother worked when he was young as a nursemaid. This is just the beginning of his entanglement with the house and its family; Mrs Ayres the widowed matriarch and hangover from Edwardian society, her son Roddie, an injured and limping veteran of the war now master of the estate though not coping with the responsibility and Caroline, the intelligent but plain daughter who is often to be found wandering around the estate with her dog.

Things take a sinister turn as Roddie becomes convinced that he is being visited by a phantom with malicious intent who is leaving dark marks around his room and when the Ayres's dog attacks the young daughter of a nouveau riche family only new to area it begins his descent into what Faraday believes to be a severe nervous disorder.

The book is essentially a story of the end of the Edwardian dynasties and the break up of the estates of the landed gentry that followed the second world war and the election of Clement Atlee's Labour government. It is also a gothic-esque ghost story in the traditions of Edgar Allan Poe however I draw that similarity very loosely as it is at best a pastiche of that story telling. The book reminds me of peristalsis with its slow and steady pace building up a tension that releases itself not with a bang but with a wimper as any dramatic tension is dissolved with a disappointing last 100 pages. Dr Faraday proves an extremely boring narrator and as his affairs become increasingly entangled with those of the Ayres' it's hard to muster the requisite sympathy.

I have now read five of the six shortlisted books of the 2009 Booker Prize and I cannot say that I have been overly impressed by the quality. Hilary Mantel's' Wolf Hall' with its nauseating prose and unbelievable revisionist history, Adam Fould's rather insubstantial 'The Quickening Maze', Simon Mawer's screenplay of a novel in 'The Glass Room' and probably the best of the lot in AS Byatt's charming Middlemarch-esque tale of two Edwardian families in 'The Children's Book', none of these are books one can imagine recalling in ten years time, from this roster of historical fiction I do not see anything approaching classic status.

I am now fully aware that I have now reviewed three books and so far they have all been 3/5 and I'm afraid this shows the forgettable nature of them, 2 would seem too harsh and 4 unmerited therefore I'm afraid I shall have to do so again.

Probably better just wait for the movie: