Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger was an excellent final set book for the Berwick group. Not because it won universal approval – this is Berwick, after all – but because it sparked such a good discussion that it seemed a shame to call it a night at 8pm.
It was described by one reviewer as “more than the sum of its parts,” which I thought was a great way of summarising the novel’s many facets, as a ghost story, a historical novel and an exploration of class and post-War societal change.
In many ways it is an old-fashioned, almost Victorian, novel but some of the issues were tackled with great subtlety.
The character of Dr Faraday was the subject of a great debate. Dull, repressed and in thrall to the Ayres and their property, he proved an unreliable narrator who became more sinister as the story went on. For Paula, he was a rational man struggling to explain and deal with the happenings and making things worse. In the end, he took possession of Hundreds Hall (or was it the other way around?) and most of us thought that he was consciously or unconsciously behind the mysterious events or haunting. Hannah astutely pointed out how keen Faraday was to denounce others as mentally ill when his own state of mind was so dubious.
Of course the Hall itself was a kind of character. We loved the way it was described with such detail and atmosphere, with its damp, decay and gradual closing-off. The parallels worked well between the decline of the upper-class family and the Hall, and the changes wrought by the War, the introduction of the NHS and the development of council housing. We also admired the portrayal of the character of Caroline, who was so interesting and well-drawn.
Some readers were disappointed with the ending and would have preferred something more dramatic or even more clear-cut. Jill found the ending weak. For Ann, the ending was signalled far too early with Faraday’s first visit to the Hall and his removal of the acorn.
Those of us who’ve read other novels by Waters were also slightly disappointed that it failed to grip quite as hard as, for example, Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet.
We ended the evening by swapping favourite books for everyone to read before our summer meeting in July. It should be a great evening as we all bring back our thoughts on these recommendations from everyone in the group. Our other theme for the summer meeting is music and we’ll all be bringing along some writing on the subject – and possibly some accompanying audio. We can toast the fascinating writing and the great discussions we’ve had since last September.
Next meeting: Tuesday 6th July, 6.30pm. Words and Music! Venue: Barbara’s house, details on e-mail.