The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
In many ways this book reminded me of Jane Eyre—the retrospective narrator, the gloomy atmosphere, the decaying mansion. Minus, of course, lapses into Dear reader confidences.
Just as Bronte did before her, Waters renders the crumbling mansion’s inhabitants with subtle shifts—Mrs. Ayres, increasingly desperate to maintain the veneer of the landed gentry; Roderick Ayres, desperate to preserve himself inviolate; Catherine Ayres, desperate to keep it together despite a malevolent supernatural presence. And then there’s young maid Betty, the unassuming conduit any poltergeist worth its salt requires. Or does someone else fill that role?
Enter Dr. Faraday to chronicle all.
Waters’ portrayal of the characters’ descent into possession or madness is as painstakingly accurate as Michelangelo’s four year layering of pigment and glaze on the Sistine Chapel portraits. At 528 pages, the book takes nearly as long to read. Alas, Gentle reader, the novel suffers, as so many do, from SMS—Saggy Middle Syndrome.
Yet for all that, the novel is intelligently written, deliciously atmospheric, darkly pessimistic; the doctor narrator more Mr. Rochester than Jane—damaged, despairing and possibly deluded.