War on the Wheels

War on the Wheels
The story of the people

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Little Stranger

I listened to Sarah Waters talk about this her latest book at the London Book Fair in 2009. I had enjoyed The Night Watch and looked forward to her exploration of yet more recent history; The Night Watch is set in WWII and The Little Stranger during the post war Labour Government.
The Little Stranger is written in the first person from the point of view of a middle aged bachelor GP. Its first sentence tells you that it is going to be about a country house, Hundreds Hall; its first paragraph adds the setting of the turbulence of the class system in the aftermath of war.
It has the remembered pace of my childhood: cars that start only with care, doctors with bags, council houses, sensible shoes and heavy clothing. Waters honours the different vocabulary of only sixty or so years ago.
It is a story in which everything changes. Hundreds Hall starts, albeit in memory, as breathtakingly grand and finishes in complete decay. Mrs Ayres begins young and beautiful and ends taking her own life. A similar decay affects Caroline and Roderick, the heirs to the house. What is the cause of the decay? Mr Attlee and the Labour Government, or something sinister? Waters said it was a ghost story. What then is so clever is that whilst this offers the simplest explanation of the strange occurrences, all the time the reader finds herself aligned with the less fanciful explanations offered by the narrator and others. So much so that there remains a hint that the narrator is in some way responsible. The final paragraph possibly supports this.
It is a book written with the weight and texture of a good tweed coat. We spend time with people and places, yet the plot is always near to draw us on.
I look forward to her next one.
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