I didn't find Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger (Virago) frightening, unnerving or chilly as other critics did. In fact, for most of the time I was waiting for something sensational to happen. A dead child's name scratched on the walls, odd knockings, bangings and bell ringings didn't induce me to sleep with the light on (although a fox screaming outside my window as a I read, as experienced by Suzi Feay of the Literary Review, certainly would have made me reach for the Rescue Remedy).
My mother and aunt were ardent followers of things that went bump in the night and were constantly tripping off to eccentric old ladies in turbans to find out what the future had in store for them. When my mother died, she left behind a diary full of automatic writing that nobody could decipher. The Sister and I were used to pushing upturned glasses round a circle of letters with Yes and No at the top and bottom and asking daft questions that always ended up in riots of laughter, so we were no strangers to the 'supernatural'. This came to an abrupt halt one day in our mother's absence, when we 'borrowed' the forbidden equipment from the sideboard. By the time she arrived home The Sister and I were clutching one another in terror, scared stiff of the terrifying atmosphere we'd created in the room and a ghastly smell like bad cheese that permeated it. I said it was her feet; she swore it was mine and we became hysterical.
|Author Sarah Waters|
Faraday, now a qualified doctor spends a lot of time with the widowed mother, Mrs Ayres and her two grownup children, Roderick and Caroline. But his logical medical mind attributes the strange happenings there to psychological issues, so that if he and his colleagues had had their way the entire clan would have been locked up in mental homes. Readers are given the option of deciding whether it is paranormal activity and an entity is at work in the house to destroy the family or whether it's possible for a frustrated human being to subconsciously convey their angst into the house to attain the freedom they desperately desire by terrifying them all into insanity or worse. This is what is so fascinating about the author's extraordinary tale.
The drama and conflict at the climax is enthralling and skilfully handled and her research impeccable. She weaves her knowledge into the plot, mainly through dialogue so that it's given naturally and not in large chunks of indigestible exposition or as an academic lesson in how knowledgeable she is, like some writers do (though I have to say that Faraday certainly has his fair share of introspection).