The Little Stranger Read Along Part II

Welcome back all to the second, and concluding, part of the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Once again, this most awesome pick was the choice of the folks of The Estella Society, so make sure to wander over there and sample their take on this book.

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

There Be Spoilers! You have been warned.

OK. So, everyone has some tragedy haunting them in this book. Dr. Faraday never met the woman of this dreams and had a family; Caroline is so plain and ordinary, she couldn’t really hope to attract a love match and once she had found a place in life as a war nurse and escapes her family, she got called back to nurse her injured brother; Mrs. Ayres lost her first child, daughter Susan, to diphtheria and found that she never loved anyone quite the same again; Roderick had his war accident that left him scarred and a little crippled.

So, with that as our starting point, this old once-majestic house seems to be haunted. At first, we can’t tell whether or not there is an actual paranormal presence or merely a variety of abnormal human behavior. In fact, this book had me flip-flopping back and forth until the end. I loved that about the story. There’s the eerie little fires that eventually lead up to a true midnight nuisance that almost kills Rod and is the final straw that sends him and what little is left of his psyche off the mental hospital. Next, the servants and Caroline are plagued by calls at the most inconvenient times followed by the summoning bells and whistles (those noisemakers used to summon servants to any part of the house to carry light-weight objects from one side of the room to another). This silly game finally culminates in Mrs. Ayres in the old nursery, trapped behind a locked door, desperately wanting out, breaking the glass on the window, and ending up severely lacerated. Throughout it all, Dr. Faraday maintains that there is nothing with ectoplasm running about the house. He maintains this when even greater tragedy occurs – Mrs. Ayres taking her own life.

As the story moves forward, Dr. Faraday and Caroline become engaged. Yet, it is such a hesitant engagement on Caroline’s part – she shows no interest in the arrangements, the clothes, the date, the decorations, the food, etc. Granted, she has grief and hardship on her mind. The family was in financial straights before Rod went off to the institution and the house was gloomy and sad before the tragedy with Mrs. Ayres. So it wasn’t until somewhere in the last 2 CDs that I started to really worry for Caroline – Why wouldn’t she marry? If she doesn’t marry, what will happen to her and Hundreds Hall? Would Dr. Faraday’s heart be irrevocably broken and would he make a scandal and fuss over it?

But then Caroline becomes the hero of the story, flying in the face of then societal expectations. She makes the momentous decision to sell Hundreds Hall and leave the country, possibly planning to go to the Americas. Awesome! Oh, but she won’t be marrying Dr. Faraday, and in fact never loved him, just kind of had it all muddled up inside her head. All this only like 2 weeks before the wedding. I think my heart broke a little bit for Faraday over that scene. Still, Caroline had it right in that marrying out of gratitude and staying at Hundreds Hall could have ended up being the greater tragedy.

So let’s talk about that ending. Caroline dies on what was to be her wedding night in an empty house, falling from an upstairs landing as Betsy the servant watches in surprise and dismay. Faraday spent that night in his car, in that lonely still glade where he and Caroline parked and had the most regrettable first tryst. He yearned so greatly for the life he was to have with Caroline – living at Hundreds Hall chief among them. Of course, there was the legally required inquest in which her death was ruled a suicide while she was not herself. After that, the rumors fly about the Hall being haunted. This leads to difficulties with it selling and it becomes even further run down. Faraday is the only one who visits the Hall on a regular basis, tending to it as he can.

The ending lets the reader decide if there was a phantasm, or ghost, or spiritual energy and I admire the craftsmanship that went into this novel. For me, I believe the unexplained and unfortunate events were the work of Faraday’s deep longing to be a part of Hundreds Hall. I also like how that kind of ending gives symmetry to the story: Faraday is a firm believer in the tangible and science and not in the paranormal.

So, what say you?

Do you believe that our deepest yearnings, hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers can affect the world around us? Perhaps even manifesting unknowingly in a negative manner to get what we desire?

The Little Stranger Read Along Part I

Hello everyone. Welcome to the read along of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This read along is the brainchild of those lovely, quick-tongued, and highly entertaining folks over at The Estella Society, so make sure to stop by and enjoy their site. As stated on their site, this is kind of a loosey-goosey read along, aiming for the midpoint today (Sept. 10th) and to be completed Sept. 17th. As of posting this, I haven’t seen a midpoint post at The Estella Society. If I see one go up, I’ll put in a direct link to it as we wouldn’t want to miss the fun. (P.S. the midpoint post went up Sept. 11th).

This is my first time reading anything by Sarah Waters. Her clear writing style and knack for including small mysterious or quaint detail drew me in straight off. The Little Stranger is set in rural Warwickshire, England, post  World War II. We first meet Dr. Faraday as a young boy sneaking peaks at a fancy party at Hundreds Hall where his mother works as a maid. The story then moves forward ~30 years or so and Hundreds Hall has faded greatly in grandeur. The Ayreses (Caroline, Rodney, and their mother) try to keep the place up with their own hard work.

I decided to check the audioversion, read by Simon Vance, out from the library. There are 13 discs and I am on Disc 7. Without spoiling any of the story, I just wanted to chitchat about a few points that have made this story interesting so far.

1) Rodney and Caroline are adult children and, based on their physical efforts to keep up Hundreds Hall, perfectly employable. So I had to wonder why at least one of them didn’t go get a job? Can that truly be any less ‘noble’ than milking the cows or doing the cooking? And the answer simply, is Yes. Based on the time and culture, it would have been next to unthinkable for landed nobility to go out and get an office job, rubbing elbows with the unwashed masses. Truly, the family would have been ostracized from high society. Yet, how it is now, the family rarely has peers over (due to the dilapidated state of their Hundreds Hall) and rarely are invited out by their peers (again, what would they wear?).

2) I love how the author made Caroline a sensible woman and very plain in appearance instead of making Caroline a financially poor belle of the story. I found myself relating to her from the first few encounter with her. I love how she cleans, gathers berries, milks cows, and cooks. She is also practical in footwear and her lack of stockings for day-to-day antics.

3) Based on this book being part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I am guessing there is a supernatural element to this story. Yet, as the reader, being ~halfway through, I am still not positive. I am thoroughly enjoying how the author has woven the story so that all unfortunate events to this point can be described by abnormal human behavior.

4) Class difference keeps raising it’s ugly head. The story is told through the eyes of Dr. Faraday, a man whose parents poured everything they had into his education and who himself has worked hard to obtain and maintain his local practice. While his profession is often referred to as noble, there are still the small societal slights, on both sides, concerning him spending so much time with the Ayreses. I find this interesting as it is not something I personally have bumped into, having spent most of my life in the desert Southwest USA.

For those of you reading along, or having read Sarah Waters’ works before, what has drawn you in? What has kept you hooked?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII

I’ve decided to join the fracas over at Stainless Steel Droppings, where some of the best fracases have been. This particular one will involve the spooky, the mysterious, and the frightening for the next two months (through Halloween). I’ll let Stainless Steel Droppings fill you in on the details (and remember to stop by over there if you want to play too):

The purpose of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII is to enjoy books and movies/television that could be classified (by you) as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

My goal will be to read 2 scary RIP selections over the next two months and to also join in the two read-alongs that will be happening.

The Estella Society will be hosting the read-along of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger from September 1-17.

Stainless Steel Droppings will be hosting the read-along of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book starting October 1st.

If you want to join in any or all of this, it is not too late to check out Stainless Steel Droppings and The Estella Society. Enjoy!