448 of 465 people found the following review helpful
The Fall of the House of Ayres,
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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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Jun 2009 08:13:52 BDT
K. Sandler says:
What a beautiful, prosaic review. Are you a writer?
Posted on 8 Jul 2009 09:48:34 BDT
A wonderful review. I have this book at the top of my to-read pile and I am all the more inspired to get reading it now!
Posted on 25 Jul 2009 09:39:14 BDT
B. Badley says:
I was going to write my own review but this one says it all rather eloquently!
'Nuff said: our copy is being passed around and everyone who reads it is wholly entranced.
Posted on 7 Aug 2009 14:39:36 BDT
J. Eddie says:
You write a great review. Now I will definitely buy this book!
Posted on 9 Aug 2009 07:24:40 BDT
Andrew Morse says:
Posted on 7 Oct 2009 12:47:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Oct 2009 12:48:27 BDT
J. Wilson says:
yes this review is good. The book is very good. I love reading about the Ayres characters and I like what you are saying about the ending. I am still thinking about it as well !
Posted on 9 Oct 2009 23:00:30 BDT
Caroline Lennox says:
Yes, it seems the ending keeps resurfacing for days after reading the final page. Lots of sinister loose ends to involve the reader's imagination long after the story concludes. Well worth the read!
Posted on 19 Oct 2009 12:55:52 BDT
Lady Fancifull says:
Well done, a splendid review. Like another poster, I WAS going to write my own review, but you have expressed exactly what I feel about this book, - your encapsulation of the literary heritage/connections is spot on
Posted on 12 Feb 2010 19:56:33 GMT
Rosemary Thomas says:
I was going to write a review of this amazing novel - but you have said it all for me ! If you haven't read it yet - go out and buy a copy, you're in for a treat! Just don't read it on a dark night all on your own in an old house!!
In reply to an earlier post on 18 Feb 2010 23:23:10 GMT
S. Spence says:
Excellent review. I finished the book myself three days ago, and it's still haunting me,