This was my first RIP VII read, and I loved it! Sarah Waters is an amazing author – I am so excited to have found someone with a fairly significant backlist to explore (especially because she is firmly amongst the living, so I can anticipate new books being released by her as well).
I love the cover of this book. I think it does a great job of hinting at the story contained within the covers, and as embarassing as it is to admit, I am attracted to a pretty covers. It is sometimes unfair, judging a book by it’s cover, but in this case, I definitely got what I expected. The image of the crumbling mansion, with the gloomy backdrop definitely provides a sense of atmosphere and foreboding.
Rather than providing a traditional review, I just want to talk a bit about the book, and what I liked about it. I’m not a big horror reader, but I do love a story with gothic attributes, which this one had in spades. I also love the time period of this book, which is set in postwar England during a period of intense social change, where the traditional divisions in English society are rapidly collapsing.
To start, Sarah Waters can write. Her sentences are often a thing of beauty, and her descriptive passages can be simply wonderful. She has an unerring sense of how to build suspense in the book as a whole, but also in smaller increments, in scenes within the book. There was a scene where we, the readers, are aware that something terrible is going to happen at a dinner party because the narrator had told us so in the chapter before the dinner party actually began. Ms. Waters expertly described the dinner party in all of it’s mundanity, while still managing to leave me on the edge of my seat as she built almost unbearable suspense as to when the terrible event would actually occur.
There is also the aspect of the unreliable narrator, Dr. Faraday. I often have very mixed emotions about the use of unreliable narrator, and sometimes feel that it didn’t really work for the story. In this book, though, the unreliable narrator works perfectly. Dr. Faraday is definitely not what he seems, and he is definitely not telling us the unvarnished and objective truth about the events at Hundreds Hall. And because she weaves him so convincingly, even at the end of the book, the reader is left a bit confounded. Rarely am I required to go back through, and think about a book, looking for the trail of breadcrumbs that was dropped by the author. With this book, I feel that I must put some distance between myself and the book, and then I am going to reread it and look, again, for all of those hints that I know Sarah Waters left me – some of which I caught, and some of which, I am certain I missed.
So, The Little Stranger is a simple ghost story. Or it isn’t. The Little Stranger is a psychologically compelling study of a madman. Or it isn’t. The Little Stranger is a description of a series of brilliantly executed murders. Or it isn’t. And that is what makes this book so amazing – any of these possibilities is left open (although I, of course, have my own opinion as to who, or what, The Little Stranger actually was) for the reader to think through at the end and come to his or her own conclusions.
A worthy read for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, indeed.