Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A couple months ago, I was catching up on trailers for all the newest movies coming out and I came upon a movie called The Little Stranger, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, and Will Poulter. The plot looked really interesting, so I searched it on Wikipedia, only to find it was based on a book…this book.

Here’s the trailer of the movie, if you’re curious…

From the movie, I thought it would be a thrilling horror, but that was not at all what it was.

Release: May, 2010

Synopsis: Following WWII, Dr. Faraday is summoned to the dilapidated Hundreds Hall in rural Warwickshire, only to discover an interesting family. The mother, son, and daughter are all reclusive individuals struggling to survive. There is something haunting the Ayres family. Is it a ghost from their past? Or madness?

Non-Spoiler Review

This book took my forever to finish (nearly three weeks), mostly because it is so slow-moving and over 500 pages. It takes it’s time to build the suspense quite well, but it is the characters that the book truly focuses on the most. However, the ending was such a disappointment I actually felt as if the rest of the enjoyment I had for this book was for naught. Let me explain.

Since the ending is the only thing I really had a problem with, I’ll save that for my spoiler section and focus on most of the positives in this part.

I really liked Dr. Faraday’s character. As the narrator, he holds the plot together by keeping it on a logical focus. He is down-to-earth, practical, but also essentially good. He tries to help people, whether it is the Ayres family or his other patients. He is also prudent, and doesn’t gossip. In my opinion, his character is the best thing about this book.

Because we see in his perspective, the rest of the characters are often defined by how he sees them, for better or for worse. Whether it is the daughter at Hundreds Hall, Caroline, or the maid Betty, we never get a chance to see inside their heads to see what they are thinking at any given moment. I am not criticizing this choice and in fact I think it helps with the mysterious feeling throughout the plot.

Though the plot moves incredibly slowly, I never felt like the book lacked quality because of it. Often times I dislike in mysteries when too little time is spent on the actual mystery, but in this one I actually felt as if the mystery was not the focus and instead the family itself.

For some reason, the book reminded me of The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson but everything I disliked about the book was done well in this one. The horrific incidents were rare, but the characters were interesting. In Amityville, the characters were poor so the book felt boring to me.

I would be giving this book five stars and raving about it, if it had not been for the ending.

Spoiler Alert!

This is going to spoil the entire ending, so read ahead with caution!

Mrs. Ayres commits suicide and Caroline falls down the stairs to her death. Roderick, the son of the house, is sent to a mental institute and he’ll probably die soon too. So…this is where my biggest problem with the ending comes in.

Throughout the entire book, there is always a question of what is happening in the house. There are scorch marks in Roderick’s room and Mrs. Ayres is locked in the old nursery by something, even though no one is in the house. What made the dog Gyp attack a visiting child? What lit the fire in Roderick’s room? And how did Caroline fall down the stairs?

There is always the question in the reader’s mind about what is haunting the family. Is it really supernatural? Is it Mrs. Ayres’s deceased daughter Susan? Is it her abusive dead husband? Or a demon? Or is the answer not supernatural, as Dr. Faraday is convinced all along? Does madness run in the family? Is someone outside the household trying to terrorize them? Is it maybe someone inside the house, like Betty the maid? Or is it indeed just all in the character’s heads? That they built up a belief in their minds that this ghost exists and it literally drove them mad.

This question is never explained. I read 500 pages of this book to answer one question—what was happening in the house—and it was never answered. Nothing was made clear and the plot ended up really going nowhere.

I understand that this book is not a typical mystery or thriller. It is a slow burn, but any book which presents a problem in the beginning should explain and resolve the problem in the end. And yet it did not. I knew little that I did not know by page 50 by the end of the book.

Conclusion

Good book, bad ending.

That is my opinion. And, if the ending had been different and explained or at least hinted to more, I would have liked this book so much better. Even if they hinted more to Mrs. Ayres trying to summon the ghost of her dead daughter Susan and instead summoning something much more evil, I would have been happy. I do not need a book to tie up all the loose ends.

But this book didn’t tie up any of the loose ends.

Have you read this book? Heard of it? What do you think about open-ended endings to books? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness (no pun intended in this case) and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

    1. One of my favorite quotes is “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” I personally find the world a bit crazy, so, in a sense, I consider my blog to be just a taste of that madness which is found in every aspect of the world. In this case, I call it a pun because madness is exactly what this book explores. I hope that explains the confusion.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I read a different book by Sarah Waters – I actually can’t remember the title now! – and although I liked the gothic Victorian atmosphere, found the book too long and disappointing. I suppose I expected more because the author has a very good reputation. I’m pretty sure I’ll never read this one, even to try the author a 2nd time, because I struggle with long novels and 500 pages is way too much for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually love long books, but like you said, this book felt really long. I know Sarah Waters also wrote Fingersmith, which I’ve been considering reading for a while, but after this book I probably won’t. It’s funny, I always have high expectations are famous authors, and usually they fail to meet it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

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