Story is set in an old mansion called “The Hundreds Hall” in Warwickshire, England in the 1940s. Dr.Faraday is asked to come to the Hundreds to see the maid Betty who is ill from two days. Soon the Doctor finds himself drawn to the family, Mrs.Ayres now widowed, her son Rodrick Ayres who himself is suffering from a smashed leg and partly disfigured face during his time in RAAF and Rodrick’s sister Caroline Ayres, slightly eccentric and social. He recalls his previous visit to Hundreds which was nearly 30 years ago, when his mother was a nursemaid for Mrs.Ayres’s first child Susan who died of some illness. But he is astonished by the state of the mansion which is practically crumbling and needs renovation and care which presently is not possible by Ayres.
“We see what a punishing business it is, simply being alive.”
Soon the gothic tale begins. Extraordinary events occur which is interpreted as a doing of supernatural power which haunts the mansion. And one by one the members of the family are removed the house. First Rodrick, who starts hearing sounds and things moving on it’s own around his room. Then after a serious fire that occurred in his room he is moved to an asylum under Dr.Faraday’s instruction. Next goes Mrs.Ayres who starts feeling her deceased daughter’s presence and commits suicide. Between these events Dr.Faraday and Caroline fall in love and decides to get married in sometime in future. But Caroline seeing Dr.Faraday’s determination of staying at the Hundreds and looking after it even after marriage discourages Caroline. Caroline wants to eave this blasted place and go somewhere far like America or Canada and start a new life. But Doctor wants the house returned to its glory ( as far as I could interpret).
The wedding plans fall apart and Doctor’s pleas for reconciliations are discouraged by Caroline. But on the night of their previously planned wedding, Caroline is found dead after falling from the second floor.
“The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a—a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop—to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into?
Author keeps us hanging on the threads between the human madness and ghosts. Once we feel that the tale is Gothic with some ill-nature ghost, then we feel some one in the house is deliberately setting up a drama. Each time the finger points to different people and for different reasons. But what I thought was Caroline finally understood or had a premonition on the killer or the hand behind the drastic events at the house which made her to cancel the wedding.
The madness is purely psychological and it’s a madness towards the house. The Hundreds and the ownership of it which is in the head of (view spoiler) is what I found unnerving.
I love Sarah Waters. She has a style of writing that makes you go on reading even when the story is a bit weak. That is the case of “The Little Stranger”. Plot felt a bit weak (compared Fingersmith“, but narration and characters were too interesting to ignore. If you are expecting something like Fingersmith, then it’s not anything like that. This book is totally different from it and has a different aura around it. Draggy at times,A gripping Gothic tale.