Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

A great introduction to a talented writer.

I came to know of her when her latest book Paying Guests created a big buzz. Just as with any book that is hyped, I was sceptical of the writer, for often there is disappointment lurking behind such hype.

Aftering evading it for a long time, I came across her previous novel on a book blog with the keywords, "gothic", "supernatural" and "suspense", the premise sounded very promising, I opened the pages to find myself riveted.

A doctor, Faraday is called out to an old country hall called the Hundreds. It triggers off memories of visiting the place as a child.  He remembers the place in its heyday and is shocked to see its decline. More than that, he witnesses the effect it has on its members. What starts as professional visit gradually turns into a complex relationship with the Hall and its residents. It also sets the scene for some unexplained events that threatens the doctor's life with life altering consequences.

What works:

  • The premise is very intriguing. It is reminiscent of the Downton Abbey kind of a feel. There is a country house, sprawling grounds, rich legacy. In the backdrop of such a landscape you have these characters who are still living out their past glory tattered in financial and emotional ruins. I love such set ups like these and when there is a supernatural element in the midst of it, it offers such a brilliant plot to relish!
  • I loved the character of the doctor. Being a doctor's wife, I can relate to the restrained conduct and the clinical approach to things. The doctor is human and has his own fallacies and these cause him to act the way he does. Brilliant. You can see the conflict, the social ambition, yet the need to uphold professional conduct. Loved the complexity of the character.
  • The characters of Caroline and Roderick are so in sync with the time period. Roderick, a victim of the war and Caroline a victim of the societal bias against women are such poignant characters. Mrs Eyres on the other hand is the face of the decadent past. Memorable and distinct characterisations indeed. 
  • Waters also does a great job of setting the atmosphere of the post war effects on the English society. I loved the insight into varied themes such as class and ambition, the state of medicine before the NHS and the decay of the feudal society. 
What doesn't:
  • There is too much detailing. In the process of offering an insight into the societal bais  and the post war effects on characters, Waters gets too wordy. There are pages where nothing much is happening. Instead what we get is pages of people's reactions, thoughts and behaviour. It bogs down the book a bit.
  • Wading through it all, there came a point when boredom began to set in.  However, Waters narrative kept me intrigued enough to keep going to find out what was going to happen to them all. 

Overall, it requires perseverance, but this is a well crafted and superbly written book. Books shortlisted for Man Booker Prize are not really my favourites. 

But this one is an exception.


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