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454 of 471 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fall of the House of Ayres
To be honest I have always had a bit of a soft spot for ghost stories but even allowing for a certain bias regarding the subject matter this is without doubt a blindingly good novel. On the surface it is all so deceptively simple. A country doctor, approaching a dreary and unloved middle age, finds himself paying regular visits to the local stately pile where he...
Published on 6 Jun 2009 by Gregory S. Buzwell

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but...
Previous reviews have explained the plot and context.

It is beautifully written, but no bundle of laughs for sure. The story line went from tragedy to miserable tragedy without a single lighter note to complement the gloom. I didn't exactly feel like slashing my wrists before the end, but then my aptitude for self preservation is pretty well refined...
Published 23 months ago by R. C. Harris


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454 of 471 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fall of the House of Ayres, 6 Jun 2009
By 
Gregory S. Buzwell "bagpuss007" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Little Stranger (Hardcover)
To be honest I have always had a bit of a soft spot for ghost stories but even allowing for a certain bias regarding the subject matter this is without doubt a blindingly good novel. On the surface it is all so deceptively simple. A country doctor, approaching a dreary and unloved middle age, finds himself paying regular visits to the local stately pile where he encounters the once grand but now rather moth-eaten Ayres family. Soon afterwards strange and seemingly supernatural events begin to take place: the formerly placid family dog attacks a small child; strange marks appear on the walls; bells ring for no apparent reason; doors occasionally seem to lock themselves and sinister scribbles inexplicably turn up on doors and windowsills. Dr Faraday seeks, and believes he finds, a rational explanation for the strange events but the Ayres are altogether less sure.

What makes this apparently rather simple set-up so compelling is the skill with which Waters applies layer after gentle, rustling layer of doubt, paranoia and unease. Dr Faraday is, for example, a far from perfect narrator. Unimaginative, class-conscious and painfully aware that he doesn't have the 'right accent' to fit in with the grand Ayres he finds himself alternating between cloying resentment towards the family one minute and fawning servility the next. In turn the Ayres have fallen on financially ruinous times and the - from their perspective - frankly unpleasant plebian classes are literally encroaching on Ayres territory in the form of council houses being built on land skirting Hundreds Hall. Working class on the way up collides with landed gentry on the way down. The whole situation is a portrait in minature of post-war England preparing to tear itself apart. Throw in a possible romance and an unhappy event from the Ayres's recent past and you have an explosive mixture - sort of 'Rebecca' meets 'The Turn of the Screw' via Borley Rectory.

I finished reading The Little Stranger a few days ago and it hasn't settled quietly into its grave. It rustles and creaks; it casts shadows where shadows really shouldn't be and it refuses to tie itself up into a neat little bundle of comfortable conclusions. The more I think about it the more wheels within wheels within wheels I begin to see. It's beautifully elegant and it flows in the way only novels written by born story-tellers ever seem to manage; and more than anything else it creeps up on you in subtle, disturbing ways. Sarah Waters is one of our finest novelists and while this may not have the immediate shock impact of, say, Fingersmith, I think in its quiet and deceptively gentle way it is every bit as good. A beautiful novel with dark, haunted depths.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but..., 18 Sep 2012
By 
R. C. Harris "Eden House" (New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
Previous reviews have explained the plot and context.

It is beautifully written, but no bundle of laughs for sure. The story line went from tragedy to miserable tragedy without a single lighter note to complement the gloom. I didn't exactly feel like slashing my wrists before the end, but then my aptitude for self preservation is pretty well refined.

However, the ambience is quite perfect and you can almost believe that this was actually written during early post war Britain.

The characters themselves are very believable, and creep under your skin. There is Dr Faraday, a balding middle aged doctor, uncertain of his status in a socially changing society. The bright but plain and frumpish daughter, Caroline. The mother, in fear of the changes infiltrating the family way of life, and stoically facing impending ruin. You could almost feel the white of their knuckles as they cling on to tradition. A nice touch was the evening party where many came in evening dress but the lounge suits also arrived. A real metaphor for the changing social scene.

The growing relationship between the hesitant working class doctor and landed gentry Caroline is handled with fine delicacy, like watching a flower bloom.

The supernatural element began well, with just enough doubt to make you wonder if it is imagined or if something else was going on? Though the theme seemed to lose its way as the tale progressed, and eventually became simply bumps in the night. Despite that, it remained distinctly creepy.

So, why at the end did I feel rather depressed and disappointed? I accept that real life drama rarely answers all questions or provides for a nice neat ending. But I had anticipated a final proverbial rabbit out of the hat, as in Sarah Walter's book Affinity. Something that would tie up the story ends sufficiently to satisfy. But it never happened. Pity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, 2 July 2009
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Audio CD)
The reviews for this book in the media, weren't too favourable, but I bought it having read "Affinity" - my favourite Waters book. Don't get me wrong, it took a while for me to get into the book, but once I did - I was completely hooked. I think it very brave of Waters to explore psychological/mental health of the Ayres family; especially in a 1940s setting - when mental illness was hardly discussed.

There is a real twist at the finale, that really took me by surprise and also left me a little disappointed. I don't think it's one of Waters strongest books, but it is still a good read.

I did not think I would like this book, but I would highly recommend it to anyone!
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old'., 8 July 2009
By 
purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Hardcover)
The opening recalls Rebecca (Virago modern classics)'s opening 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again' or Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder; novels which have great houses at their centre.

The narrator here is the local boy done good; he is a doctor but his mother was once a nursemaid at the great house. He is the outsider in a county family world, an emblem of societal change. He had first visited the house on Empire day and received a medal from the lady of the house - now post WWII he can be a guest and even a suitor for the daughter of the family. As a narrator he is somewhat plodding and in the hands of a less polished author the story could have faltered but Waters carries it off.

I was (of course) reminded of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories (Oxford World's Classics). It is never clear in that long short story whether everything is on the governess's head or whether there is a ghost. In this novel I thought that Waters made it quite clear gradually and the last lines are very significant.

Poltergeists are usually youngsters going through puberty and the two newcomers to the family when the odd events start to happen, and the house and family disintegrate, are the young maid and the doctor. But our narrator is not reliable, his obsession with the house and family are extreme and as I said above the last lines are significatn in identifying 'the little stranger'.

Waters is good on class and the sense of time and place are very strong. On training a maid Mr Ayres says `I always remember my great-aunt saying that a well run house was like an oyster. Girls come to one as specks of grit you see; ten years later, they leave one as pearls'.

This novel is a pearl, less successful perhaps than some of her others but a very satisfying read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fairly chilling, but overrated., 29 Dec 2009
By 
This review is from: The Little Stranger (Hardcover)
I have only read one Sarah Waters novel, Affinity, so looked forward to The Little Stranger. Foul weather, so a perfect read, or so I thought. The novel starts slowly but I took an instant dislike to the narrator, Dr Faraday, who is a snob of the worst kind and has a monstrous chip on his shoulder to boot. I could almost see him tugging his forelock to Mrs Ayres, despite resenting her for her class. His opinion of Caroline, the daughter of Hundreds Hall, is very negative and misogynistic and he clearly prefers her mother. Waters gives clues to Dr Faraday's personality little by little and he is in that twilight zone between fitting in and not fitting in, seeming to resent everyone.

Waters sets the scene rather skilfully but it takes almost 100 pages for the first "incident" to occur, involving the family dog, Gyp. Then the tension starts building, although I felt there was too much signposting. The characters of Mrs Ayres, Caroline and Roderick are beautifully done but I secretly cheered when Caroline takes her revenge on the creepy doctor.

While reading the novel, I was reminded of another novel called The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (later filmed in 1963 as The Haunting) where a malevolent spirit singles out one specific victim. In The Little Stranger there are three victims and the house achieves its aim.

I recently read The Seance by John Harwood and much preferred it to The Little Stranger as I felt the author had caught the Gothic atmosphere perfectly.
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87 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spooky thriller, different from her other books, but still worth reading, 9 May 2009
This review is from: The Little Stranger (Hardcover)
The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time (after A Fine Balance), and so I was so excited about the release of Sarah Water's new book that I ordered a copy from America, just so I could read it a few weeks before it's UK release.

The Little Stranger is a Gothic, ghost story set in rural Warwickshire just after WWII. The central character is Dr. Faraday, who one day is called to a crumbling mansion to treat a maid who is so scared by things she has seen in the house that she wants to leave. Dr. Faraday is intrigued, by both the house and the Ayres family who live there, that he makes an effort to return to Hundreds Hall as often as he can. Increasingly strange events occur in the house, frightening and mystifying everyone who witnesses them.

The Little Stranger is very different to Fingersmith in both the style of writing, and plot development. The plot was linear, very easy to follow and structured like a fast-paced thriller. The quality of Sarah Water's writing is still high, but I think that this book will be much more accessible to the general public, and slightly disappointing to her old fans. The Little Stranger has much more in common with books like The Thirteenth Tale or The Seance, both of which I really enjoyed reading too, but don't require as much thought as Water's earlier books.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, as although it wasn't predictable, it didn't have any of the clever plot twists that she is famous for. I shouldn't really complain though, as the book had me captivated throughout . All the characters were well developed, and the storyline was reasonably plausible. It was a gripping, spooky tale - perfect for a cold, dark Autumn night.

Recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but don't expect a ghost story in typical sense, 13 Mar 2011
By 
Ms. H. Webster (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
After reading "The Night Watch", which I didn't enjoy and had to give up on, I wasn't expecting a lot from this novel. But it truly is a work of art.

It follows the downfall of a once wealthy and well to-do family just after the Second World War, and the decline of the once magnificent house they live in. I love novels where the sense of place is so alive as it is in this one. The house, Hundreds Hall, is almost its own entity and I loved the sense that the place had just as much of a story as the people living in it.

The book didn't terrify me like it did some other readers, but I don't think the supernatural element of the story should define it. It is a winding staircase and it is haunting simply in the way you look at it.

It grates on me how some reviewers have said "nothing much happens and you don't find out who the ghost or supernatural influence is" because, with all due respect to others' opinions, they must either be blind or simply expecting something obvious to be spelled out to them, which is not what the book is about. There are many clues and avenues to go down with regard to what exactly is going on at Hundreds, one of which I would contend is nearly spelled out in the last few words of the book, as well as a few hints earlier on. I don't want to spoil it or define the way in which your mind will choose to look at it, because that's half the brilliance of "The Little Stranger". Suffice to say that if you let it, this novel will speak to you in many different ways.

Despite feeling that it could have been edited down a touch, I wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer who said: "I finished it a few days ago and it hasn't settled quietly into its grave. It rustles and creaks; it casts shadows where shadows really shouldn't be and it refuses to tie itself up into a neat little bundle of comfortable conclusions."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars creepy, 22 July 2010
This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
fascinating book. Written in a very straightforward style which makes the creepiness even more shocking.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Torn between absolutely loving it and absolutely loathing it, 7 Jun 2010
By 
L. Mohr "Lorraine" (Glasgow, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Hardcover)
As my title suggests, I'm completely thrown as to whether I loved it or hated it - hence the mixed message of 3 stars.

It is undoubtedly a beautifully written book and I found myself re-reading certain passages just because they were so gorgeous, but it was a terribly slow paced, ambiguous story - obviously intentionally so. Yet despite it being so slow I couldn't not read it - I was desperate for answers and revellations and actually surprised myself by picking it up whenever I had a spare 5 minutes just to get more of it read - almost becoming obsessed with finishing it and discovering who or what the little stranger was - which is why I feel I must have loved it! But I was so brutally disappointed with the climax I can't understand why it didn't ruin the whole book for me.....

As far as horror stories go, you'll get much of a classic scare by reading James Herbert, but there's something quite eerie about this book and I'm not sure whether this has anything to do with the fact that the ending asks more questions than it answers.

So whether I loved it or I hated, I'm not sure, but one thing's certain - I haven't stopped thinking about it!
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Little Stranger turns the Screw, 27 Mar 2010
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
After a slow start, this well-written tale initially reeled in my interest with its evocation of life in rural England just after World War 2, with the conflict between nostalgia for an irrevocably declining way of life and the pressures for change. Waters captures well the appearance of cracks in the still rigid class divide, the physical decay of the elegant house and way of life which the impoverished local gentry could no longer afford to sustain, interesting details on rationing, reactions to the establishment of the NHS, the inescapable gossip grapevine, and so on. However, there was a fragmented nature to the plot, which with increasing frequency lapsed into a poltergeist-cum-Gothic horror fantasy. I am no fan of ghost stories, but I suspect that this one does not score very highly on the spine-chilling scale. Somewhere round page 160 I almost gave up, but resolved to continue since this is the choice of my local book group. Without giving too much away, the details of the hauntings which drove first Rod and then his mother mad seemed to be too silly for words, and insufficiently frightening, just ludicrous. What was slightly more alarming and intriguing was realisation of the way in which doctors, with possibly questionable motives, might react to people troubled by the supernatural by locking them up in asylums indefinitely for their own good.

Another point which concerned me was that, because of the author's decision to write in the first person through the eyes of the local doctor Faraday, many of the most dramatic scenes had to be reported to him which obviously detracted from the tension. Plus at times, the narration of these supernatural events entered into the minds of third parties and what they had thought and felt to an implausible degree.

I also disliked the disjunction between the development of subtle and intriguing relationships between characters and the ruthless killing off in bizarre circumstances of some key players.

The book improved towards the end with the course of Faraday's relationship with Caroline, and the revelation of his own character. There was an interesting final twist which caused me to reflect on the chain of supernatural events, Faraday's precise role in this and the ambiguous identity of the "little stranger" but, to conclude, I think Sarah Waters' talents could be better used.
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The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Paperback - 5 Jan 2010)
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