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Book Review: ‘The Little Stranger’

“The Little Stranger” is a 2009 gothic novel written by Sarah Waters. The book has been out for a while, but I recently got around to reading it. I just wish that I had encountered it sooner! The book’s setting takes place in Warwickshire, England in the 1940s. It follows the main character, Dr. Faraday, on his visits to the old, run-down Hundreds Hall, where his mother used to work. After his visits, strange, supernatural things start to occur at the hall.

The novel is told from Dr. Faraday’s point of view. Faraday, a country doctor with a humble background, strikes up a friendship with the Ayres family of Hundreds Hall after he is called in to treat their maid. The Ayres family consists of Caroline, her brother Roderick, who is a former soldier suffering from the aftermath of war, and their elderly mother. As Faraday continues his visits, he discovers that the family is struggling with finances, which explains why the manor is basically falling down around them. Faraday has had a fascination with the hall ever since he was a little boy. He tells readers about the time he broke off a piece of molding, wanting a part of the house for himself and often expresses his anguish over the ruined state of the house throughout the book. 

The first strange event occurred at a party the family threw. A couple brings their young daughter who is mauled by Caroline’s normally gentle dog. That same night, Roderick starts to claim that a mysterious force is causing ordinary objects in his room to attack him. After Caroline wakes up one night to find his room on fire, Roderick is committed to a mental hospital by the suggestion of Dr. Faraday. The amount of odd noises in the house start to escalate: maids’ bells ringing haphazardly, phone calls in the middle of the night with no one on the other line and random knocking throughout the house. Each time one of the family members would try to discuss their suspicions and worries, Faraday refused to listen and constantly chalked up the issues to the age and neglect of the house. There was also talk about selling the estate, and for good reason. The family needed the money and the drafty, damp condition of the house was no longer suitable for the elderly Mrs. Ayres to be living in. Despite this sound logic and the fact that the house’s matters were actually none of his business, Faraday takes it upon himself to prevent the family from selling it. 

Faraday and Caroline eventually become romantically involved and this is where readers can clearly see that he is a seriously problematic character. Faraday takes Caroline to a dance, where he starts to become attracted to her. Despite admiring Caroline’s appearance on this occasion, he is quickly put off by another doctor’s mocking comments about Caroline’s plainness. He becomes offended, not because of his colleague’s rudeness, but because he is embarrassed at being associated with such a plain-looking girl. Faraday continues to pursue Caroline anyways, even though she is clearly uncomfortable being physically close to him. Not long after the dance, they get engaged. Caroline felt that things were moving too fast, but Faraday completely disregards her feelings. Even though his tone throughout the novel sounds respectable and logical, he constantly manipulates the family, using his status as a male doctor to do so. 

Despite how unlikable of a character Faraday is, I would still definitely recommend this book if you want to have a good scare! It’s a great spooky story that will have you on the edge of your seat!

Emily is a junior and majoring in English at Michigan State University.
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