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Cover image for The little stranger
The little stranger
First Riverhead trade paperback edition
New York : Riverhead Books, 2009.
Physical Description:
512 pages ; 21 cm
One dusty postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall, the residence of the Ayres family for more than two centuries. Its owners, mother, son and daughter, are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as conflicts of their own. But the Ayreses are haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life.


Call Number
Waters, S.

On Order



Soon to be a major motion picture, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Domhnall Gleeson and Ruth Wilson.

"The #1 book of 2009...Several sleepless nights are guaranteed."--Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners--mother, son, and daughter--are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

Author Notes

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of several books including Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, The Night Watch, and The Paying Guests. Fingersmith won the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger Award for Historical Crime Fiction and the South Bank Show Award for Literature. She has won a Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award. In 2003, she was chosen as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists and was named Author of the Year by the British Book Awards, The Booksellers' Association and Waterstone's Booksellers. Several of her novels have been adapted for television.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Waters (The Night Watch) reflects on the collapse of the British class system after WWII in a stunning haunted house tale whose ghosts are as horrifying as any in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor, first visited Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a parlor maid, at age 10 in 1919. When Faraday returns 30 years later to treat a servant, he becomes obsessed with Hundreds's elegant owner, Mrs. Ayres; her 24-year-old son, Roderick, an RAF airman wounded during the war who now oversees the family farm; and her slightly older daughter, Caroline, considered a "natural spinster" by the locals, for whom the doctor develops a particular fondness. Supernatural trouble kicks in after Caroline's mild-mannered black Lab, Gyp, attacks a visiting child. A damaging fire, a suicide and worse follow. Faraday, one of literature's more unreliable narrators, carries the reader swiftly along to the devastating conclusion. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A sinister ancestral hoe in an advanced state of decay, a family terrorized by its own history, and a narrator drawn into these orbits dominate this creepy novel from Waters (The Night Watch, 2006, etc.). Shortly after the end of World War II, and nearly 30 years after first seeing magnificent Hundreds Hall as an awestruck ten-year-old, hardworking Doctor Faraday is summoned to the now-shabby Warwickshire estate to treat a young housemaid's illness. Widowed Mrs. Ayres, her son Roderick, crippled and traumatized by injuries sustained during his wartime tenure as a RAF pilot, and bluff, pleasant daughter Caroline quickly accept Faraday as a friend, and he is initially enchanted by the family's stoical perseverance as Hundreds Hall falls into ruin and farmlands are sold to pay off mounting debts. But worse awaits: The family's gentle dog Gyp unaccountably and severely bites a visiting young girl, and neither Faraday's continuing professional ministrations nor his growing love for plucky Caroline can save these reclusive prewar relics from the supernatural presences seemingly arisen from their past. Waters' scrupulously engineered plot builds efficiently to a truly scary highpoint halfway through her long narrative. But tensions relax perilously, as the doctor's repeated emergency visits to Hundreds Hall become almost risibly indistinguishable, and even crucial dramatic moments are muffled by fervent conversations among the four major characters. Furthermore, too many crucial pieces of information are relayed secondhand, as Faraday summarizes accounts of other people's experiences. Still, Waters has extended her range agreeably, working in traditions established by Edgar Allan Poe, Sheridan le Fanu and Wilkie Collins, expertly teasing us with suggestive allusions to the classics of supernatural fiction. A subtle clue planted in one character's given name neatly foreshadows, then explains, the Ayres family's self-destructive insularity. Flawed but nevertheless often gripping thriller from one of the most interesting novelists at work today. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Waters' darkly atmospheric fifth novel is set at a decaying mansion in postwar England. The narrator, Dr. Faraday, first visited Hundreds Hall as a child, when his mother, a servant at the great manor, brought him there for a party. Nearly three decades later, he returns on a professional call and soon finds himself growing close to the owners: the widowed Mrs. Ayers, who has never gotten over the death of her oldest daughter, and her two adult children, Caroline and Roderick. Faraday treats Roderick's war injury but watches helplessly as the young man, who is convinced there is an evil presence in the house, slides into madness. After a devastating incident involving a young neighbor, Faraday finds he has no choice but to commit Roderick to a mental institution. Faraday finally faces the feelings he's developed for Caroline, but the malevolent force shadowing Hundreds Hall hasn't finished with the Ayers family yet. An eerie ghost story mixed with piercing class commentary, Waters' latest is downright haunting.--Huntley, Kristine Copyright 2009 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

A doctor is in attendance as a decaying manor, or some evil in it, destroys its upper-crust inhabitants. "THE LITTLE STRANGER," Sarah Waters's fifth novel, is set in rural Warwickshire, England, in 1947, in a wonderfully evoked atmosphere of postwar anxiety. Social reform is being accelerated by the Attlee government, to the consternation of the novel's shabbily genteel characters: "I gather that neglecting the servants is a capital offense these days," says Roderick Ayres, the young master of Hundreds Hall. "They're to get better treatment than us, apparently." The narrator is the general practitioner Dr. Faraday, a middle-aged bachelor with a respectable working-class background he can't quite shake off, and an inclination toward diagnoses of "nerves." But then, there's a lot of nervousness about. Faraday has his own anxieties: having seen his parents work themselves to death for the sake of his education, he has not yet made his mark on the medical profession. Now the looming imposition of the National Health Service means he will probably lose many of his patients. Social change seems to be driving everyone bonkers. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall to treat a 14-year-old parlormaid, Betty, who would rather be in a factory with her friends than working in such a gloomy, old-fashioned house. He finds her quite well, but scared of a "bad thing" in the house. The doctor knows, and indeed loves, Hundreds Hall already. He has visited once before, as a child, to receive a commemorative medal in a crowded outdoor ceremony. On that occasion, as on many that will follow, he becomes an anomalous, shadowy presence - almost a ghost himself. Smuggled inside by his mother, a former nurserymaid there, he wanders off to admire the lovely mansion and ends up taking a piece of it with him: a decorative plaster acorn he prises off the wall with his penknife. That he receives no punishment is a clue to the moral framework of this novel - which, like Hundreds Hall itself, is beautifully constructed and also, somehow, a bit creepy. It's no wonder that Faraday falls so hard for Hundreds Hall or that, after treating Betty, he finds reasons to return more often. Waters has rendered the old house magnificently in its fading glory, and its inhabitants sparkle like chandeliers in the damp, peeling rooms. Of course, these characters and their way of life are also fading, a decline hastened by the glare of war. Roderick Ayres, the son, is back from service in the R.A.F.; he has been badly burned, and his leg has been injured. His older sister, the delightfully eccentric and masculine Caroline, who was with the Wrens, has been called back to the family home - "not such a bad old pile" - to help look after him. Their father is dead, and their mother is still mourning their sister Susan, who died of diphtheria before they were born. The Ayreses all know how to charm, how to hold up their end of a conversation and how to make a wry joke out of almost anything, including their diminishing fortunes. At one point Faraday finds Mrs. Ayres reusing a postage stamp. "'Now, I fear,' she said, as she attached the stamp to an envelope, 'that this may not be quite legal. But heaven knows, we live in very lawless times. You won't give me away, Dr. Faraday?'" While Roderick tries to manage the estate, Caroline, prevented from helping him, wanders the countryside with her dog, her "thickish" legs bare and unshaven, wearing "flat, boyish sandals" and a "badly fitting" dress or an old shapeless skirt and an Aertex blouse. Even in evening dress she fails to become anything more than "plain." Yet Faraday begins to fall for her, and so do we. AFTER a party goes dreadfully wrong, Roderick, despite Faraday's dedicated and relentless care, descends into a nervous breakdown, during which he becomes convinced that Hundreds Hall is out to get him. And get him it does. What follows is either a ghost story or a thriller depending on how you read it, as the Ayres family begins literally, and rather gothically, to be killed off or removed from Hundreds Hall. A fellow doctor tells Faraday that the Ayreses' problem is that "they can't, or won't, adapt. Don't get me wrong; I've a lot of sympathy for them. But what's left for an old family like that in England nowadays? Class-wise, they've had their chips. Nerve-wise, perhaps they've run their course." This may well be true. And the Ayreses, although likable and charming, have not allowed their attitudes to evolve with times that, even they acknowledge, are changing. When Mrs. Ayres starts to become forgetful, she tells Caroline and Betty of her great-aunt Dodo: "She used to mislay her things so often, one of her sons gave her a little Indian monkey. He strapped a basket to its back and she kept her scissors and thimbles and so on in it, and led it around on a ribbon." When Caroline suggests that Mrs. Ayres should have a monkey of her own, her mother replies that this would be impossible now. "Some society or other would prevent it, or Mr. Gandhi would object. Probably monkeys have the vote in India now." Throughout the novel, Dr. Faraday claims to be giving us the objective facts about what he sees in front of him, and making "sensible deductions," because "that's what doctors do." That he does not quite do this, and that the Ayreses come to such sticky ends, will no doubt be a source of great delight to some. After all, Sarah Waters is an excellent, evocative writer, and this is an incredibly gripping and readable novel. But to some extent her skill works against her. The Ayreses are such lovingly depicted and realistic characters that it becomes hard to accept their gothic fates. Jonathan Coe, in "The Winshaw Legacy," memorably kills off some of the English upper class and you cheer along, because in narrative terms (and probably beyond), his particular characters - gothic from the start - really deserve it. But things are not so simple here. Faraday is a more problematically unreliable narrator than, say, James Lasdun's Lawrence Miller ("The Horned Man") or Zoë Heller's Barbara Covett ("What Was She Thinking?"), because his motivations are less convincing. Early in the novel he admits to Caroline that he took the acorn from the wall years before. She apparently forgives him: "I don't blame you for wanting to vandalize these silly moldings. They were simply asking to be snapped off." Does a house ask to be vandalized or, indeed, taken by force? And, more to the point, do its inhabitants somehow "ask" to be destroyed because they have become redundant in a society that needs public housing and health centers more than rich families and country piles? If death is a harsh sentence for all but the flattest fictional characters, then one is left with the uncomfortable sense that the Ayreses have been needlessly murdered by progress and social change, which doesn't feel quite right either. Scarlett Thomas's most recent novels are "PopCo" and "The End of Mr. Y." She teaches at the University of Kent in England. One character becomes convinced that his old English mansion is out to get him. And get him it does.

Library Journal Review

Few authors do dread as well as Waters (The Night Watch). Her latest novel is a ghost story with elements of both The Fall of the House of Usher and Brideshead Revisited. In post-World War II Britain, the financially struggling Dr. Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, home of the upper-class Ayreses, now fallen on hard times. Ostensibly there to treat Roderick Ayres for a war injury, Faraday soon sees signs of mental decline-first in Roderick and later in his mother, Mrs. Ayres. Waters builds the suspense slowly, with the skeptical Faraday refusing to accept the explanations of Roderick or of the maid Betty, who believe that there is a supernatural presence in the house. Meanwhile, Faraday becomes enamored of Roderick's sister Caroline and begins to dream of building a family within the confines of the ruined Hundreds Hall. This spooky, satisfying read has the added pleasure of effectively detailing postwar village life, with its rationing, social strictures, and gossip, all on the edge of Britain's massive change to a social state. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/08.]-Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.