The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (2009) K

Date Read: 9.26.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner


The story follows Doctor Faraday, a lonely bachelor who calls upon the residents of the once glorious Hundreds Hall and begins to form a friendship with the remaining family and staff that reside there. His friendship to the family becomes a crux on which they rely, and soon he finds himself involved in ever stranger circumstances at Hundreds Hall.  The interactions of the story are characterized by mysterious fires, writings, and sounds with the underlying ever-increasing tension of Faraday’s relationship to the mother and daughter of the house.


It took me a really long time to review this because I couldn’t form a concrete opinion. Basically, there was good and bad, but the good was oh so good and the bad was characterized by raging mediocrity. Every time the scales tipped in favor of one side, I’d remember something to the contrary and the dilemma would reassert itself.

The Good: Superb writing and storytelling. Of course, it is apparent from Waters‘ four previous novels that she knows how to write, and once again she demonstrates her ability to spin a tale out of not an incredible amount of material. I was reading along the first 100 pages, and I was still, somewhat inexplicably, waiting eagerly to find out what would transpire during Faraday’s fourth visit to the same dreary hall. There’s no rampant drama or lgbt overtones that characterize her previous novels, which I found quite refreshing, as if I were here for the sole purpose of enjoying raw word manipulation.

The ghost story itself was a slow, sucking machine that really started to churn halfway through the novel. You only get glimpses of supernatural evidence, and what you do catch is extremely creepy. Purely through suggestion and subtle suspense, the mystery starts unraveling and becoming more intricate at the same time.

And, who doesn’t love a good period romance? Well I certainly do. Even if this particular romance was botchy, tense, and uncomfortable, sporting many of the same flaws that Waters usually likes to set up in her relationships, it was touching and relatable.

The Bad: Well, just the entire novel itself. It really comes down to the fact that I don’t think The Little Stranger contributed to my “literary advancement”. I didn’t get that sense of contentment, a feeling of pride when I looked over at my bookshelf and allowed myself to mentally check the book off as read. I think I would have felt the same if I had never read this book, and I feel like that is one of the biggest possible failures of a book. A good novel should always be a book people should need to experience.

I also came away thinking, “So… what was the point of that?” The suggested explanations for the events did not satisfy me– I thought the story deserved a better “source of horror”. I admit that dealing with ghost stories is extremely difficult, given that you have to walk a fine line between hackneyed and original. I am definitely one to appreciate a good painfully inconclusive ending, and even though people and places changed throughout the story, it seemed like nothing happened and everybody was in actuality in his or her same place.

Still, kudos to Waters for trying something new. For a while I was apprehensive because I wondered what would happen if one were to strip away all the lbgt drama in her previous novels. However, Affinity definitely already proved that Waters skill lies in her writing and character development, and I agree that The Little Stranger does the same.

Go to:

Sarah Waters
Affinity [K]

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