The Little Stranger is about conflict and waste; I never wanted its effect to be tidy. No other novel of mine has inspired such a range of responses in its audience and that’s been a fascinating experience…
The Little Stranger was our third book club discussion and the first time any of us had encountered the author, Sarah Waters. Described by the publisher as a ‘ghost story’ this theme formed the basis of our discussions. All of us were in agreement that it wasn’t a ghost story, in fact some eagle-eyed book club members even noted that in the acknowledgement section of the book, where the author denotes several books on poltergeist as her research for the novel. It is in fact the breakdown of the aristocracy and the deterioration of the house that forms the basis of the book; what happens thereon is almost treated as a side story.
The book centres around four main characters; Dr Faraday, Mrs Ayres, Caroline and Roderick. Dr Faraday was considered by most of the members as quite a weak character and very dismissive. We concluded that his love affair was with the house and not any individual that lived there. Mrs Ayre was deemed as an interesting character. In the first instance you gain the impression of a sweet old lady, coming to terms with the fact that she is having to sell off part of the land in order to repair the crumbling house in which she lives, but then as the novel progresses you begin to gain a different perspective as she openly admits to never having loved her other two children (only conceived under advice that it’s best to get over the death of one child with the birth of another) and in fact Roderick openly admits to the Doctor about a childhood incident that has stayed with him since, where he was ill-treated by his Mother.
Caroline was deemed as an essential weak character, that didn’t quite know what she wanted, where as Roderick, was just beginning to form a strong role when he was moved to the hospital.
One member noted that the servant girl was quite interesting. She is the one that brings the Dr to the house in the first place and it is through her eyes that you gain an impression of what it was like to work in such an old house with such character.
Most of us felt that the ending was frustrating, not having a clear-cut ending, only leaving us to decide who Caroline meant by ‘you’ before she fell to her death. Reading the author’s interviews, it seems that she wanted the readers to be kept guessing, long after they turned the final page and I guess she got her wish.