Fiction — print. Riverhead Books, 2010. 512 pgs. Purchased.
Longlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction), Waters novel is set in the summer of 29147 when Dr. Faraday is called to attend to a patient at Hundreds Hall, a grand English estate he recollects with fond memories. His mother once worked there as a maid and, as a young boy, he was once allowed to step inside the home during a picnic for children from the surrounding area.
When Faraday arrives at Hundreds Hall, though, he is disappointed to see how it has fallen into a state of disrepair. The Ayers family has called the house their home for over two centuries but, now, struggles to fund its upkeep or find staff willing to work there. Their newest maid complains of a stomachache, but Dr. Faraday eventually realizes her claims are baseless because she longs to return to her family and leave a home she believes is haunted.
Her beliefs, though, begin to take hold across the Ayers family as Faraday gets to know Mrs. Ayres and her two adult children, Roderick and Caroline. The son has to be committed to psychiatric care against his will after he displays erratic behavior; the mother is driven insane by unexplained noises and letters written into the walls of the building. And Caroline, who is torn between fidelity to her heritage and her desire to leave Hundreds Hall, must decide if she wants to accept Faraday’s proposal of marriage.
The last two sentences in the above summary occur in the last quarter of the novel, and it was only then that I started to enjoy the story Waters was telling. Hundreds Hall may be haunted a ghost, but it is also haunted by its history and the expectations people have for the building and the family that call it home.
In fact, at the risk of giving too much of the novel away, there is a wonderful scene where Caroline accuses Faraday of being more in love with Hundreds Hall than he is with her. Such an accusation sets up for a haunting conclusion to this lengthy tale and, finally, shows what Waters was attempting to share with this tale.
Yet the time required to get to that moment did not feel entirely worth it. To be fair, I expected it to take some time to immerse myself in Waters’ story. It has been my experience with Waters’ writing that the first hundred or so pages could do with editing (or deletion), but are the novel as a whole is entirely worth the time and effort required to push through.
With The Little Stranger, though, most of the novel is a slog; the descriptions and scene setting are endless. And for a story that promises to keep me up at night per Stephen King’s review blurb on the back cover, it fell far short of meeting those expectations. I’m still keen to read more of Waters’ work, but some the eagerness has faded after reading this one.
This is my tenth book for #20BooksofSummer. I purchased my copy at the public library’s used book sale in December 2015. I was supposed to read this novel for my book club’s February 2016 meeting, and I can’t recall why I skipped it now.