The Little Stranger – a ghost story?

re-reads

I have difficulty with ghost stories, have never really taken to them. I dabbled with Poe, Dickens and Henry James. Of course I have read many other supernatural beings in the early classics such as Shakespeare or further back into the Arabian and Greek tales.

It cannot just be the supernatural aspect, as I have always enjoyed fantasy and magic in my reading matter.

However, ghosts?

No.

Strange noises in the night? well, the whole of night is full of strange noises, why should they be ghosts. Troubled souls, those who die too early, who are murdered, restless spirits – we would be suffocated with the weight of them – consider the millions of murdered, untimely and cruel, deaths humanity has inflicted on each other, the unjust deaths, those deaths that cry out for revenge, the millions of trouble makers who have died.

No I don’t buy ghosts.

But then I don’t believe dragons exist, that magicians can cast spells, I don’t believe in elves or goblins, yet I can read all these with ease, ghost books no. I do try – I fail.
When one of my book groups came up with this read I was determined to give it a fair read. To enjoy  The Little Stranger, as a ghost book. However, it wasn’t one, in my humble opinion. I did enjoy it as a psychological thriller. So that was a plus. Afterwords, reading the reviews I find I was not alone in dismissing the ghostly aspects of it, clever author to be able to divide her readers so well and still keep the enjoyment for both sides.

I found it a very clever gripping tale and a book which generated a great deal of discussion amongst the group and those books are always I think worth the read.  It might not be a genre one likes but a talented author will still be able to engage – and this one did:)

The Little Stranger The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I believe it was supposed to be a spooky ghost type book, filled with an unearthly happenings. That in itself would probably have put me off, however, I don’t believe it was a ghost book at all.

The story begins with all the trappings of a ghost tale. There is the traditional stately home that is crumbling, the family fallen on financial hard times, rattling around this huge ruin, relying on just two servants instead of a household of staff.

Located at the time of great social disruption in Britain, just after the Second World War. It as also, for the purpose of this particular story, a time when the National Health Service is being set up and being viewed with great distrust by the medical profession. This is a story is marking the beginning of the decline of the Great Houses, of the landed gentry that owned them, the process of social change brought about after two of the most savage wars in history, and the gloom and exhaustion of post-war Britain.

Dr Faraday, is the unreliable witness narrator here. Born into a poor family, but with connections to the old house,through his mother who used to work there. Has achieved much by luck and hard work and has risen from his birth class to join the professional middle class. It is not a comfortable position for him to be in as at the start of his narration he is too good for his past life and looked down upon by the well off (or not so well of, merely well born).The only aspect of life he finds he has in common with his fellow doctors is he is fearful of this new National Health Service.

He is unmarried, frustrated by his prospects, disillusioned and middle age.

Hundreds Hall the ancient house, is set into terminal decay and decline. The occupants, three ‘upstairs’ and two ‘downstairs’, are full of self-doubt, insecurities and superstition. The Little Stranger is presented as a ghost story but I doubted the supernatural in it and could find logical and nasty reasons for all those seemingly endless gruesome and unpleasant events that cascade down on the household.

The book group was divided quite strongly between those who considered it a well crafted ghost story and the narrator a bit of a naive fool, and those of us who saw it as an unreliable account psychological pathology.

Although I found it hard to warm to the characters, each of them were excellently drawn, the period and the class system well portrayed and the tension rose with relentless, slow burning menace. The ending is how it should be, very inconclusive and therefore to me satisfactorily, the reader has to decide all.

Despite my foreboding I enjoyed the book, I just didn’t think it was a ghost story.

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