Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is my ideal book: eerie house, eccentric characters, and strange happenings. It's just creepy.

Genre: Gothic
Length: 15h 54m
Audio publisher: Penguin Audiobooks, 2009
Read by: Simon Vance
From: Local library

Recap: The Ayres family have been living in Hundreds Hall for centuries, but with Mr. Ayres gone, his wife and children are having a hard time keeping the crumbling place together. When Dr. Faraday is called in for a maid hysterical with fright, is it her imagination? Or is it something a little stranger?

Review: I get goosebumps just thinking about The Little Stranger. I want to stop everything listen to it again right now. I am a huge Hitchcock fan, but to me an eerie book is better than an eerie movie. It's more subtle, the characters are better developed and the suspense is longer-lasting.

The story starts a little slow, but I feel this adds to the ambiance. The book is from the point of view of local Dr. Faraday as he meets the inhabitants of Hundreds Hall after World War II. A limited number of characters allow us to experience them as people, each with their strengths and foibles. No one is spared from Dr. Faraday's frank assessments, and the doctor has some foibles himself.

A large dose of historical fiction provides details on the English countryside, Dr. Faraday's work as a country doctor, and the minute of life in Hundreds. These are all shown very naturally. The descriptions of day-to-day worries ground the novel and made it come alive. The book has a lot to say on the social changes in England after the war, both among the classes and for women, and these themes are seamlessly integrated into the story.

On top of this grounded reality are the strange happenings. Mysterious sounds, curious markings, and unexpected shadows seem to plague the hall. Is it the settling of an old house? A nasty prank? Are the inhabitants delusional? I'm sure I missed most of the clues during my first listen. That's why I have to listen  again.

Reading: When I'm looking for a new audio book, whatever Simon Vance has read recently is always an excellent choice. His smooth British accent gives me chills even when the story isn't scary. His skilled readings draw me into any novel and make me want to stay.

Final thoughts: An evocative gothic tale with themes of class distinction, suspicion and paranoia, this complex and subtle book sends slow chills that build to the end.

Grade: 5 out of 5

Companion books and movies: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, Suspicion directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

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