The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

2 August, 2009

I was lucky enough to see Sarah Waters in conversation with Suzy Feay (formerly literary editor at The Independent) several weeks ago at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank. Waters is a slight, vivacious figure, always with a smile. I hadn’t read The Little Stranger at that point, but was interested in anything written in or about the interwar and postwar period. The talk was enlightening with Waters describing how her interest in the postwar period did not end with the publication of her previous novel The Nightwatch but kept drawing her back until she wrote The Little Stranger. Uncharacteristically for her, her new novel is a ghost story without any lesbian overtones. But this didn’t seem to bother her. And why should it, because Waters has written a beautifully atmospheric novel and has been rightfully longlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize.


A synopsis of the novel can be found here. The narrator of The Little Stranger is Dr. Faraday. We never find out what his first name is. This is a ghost story and a love story and a social history of that particular time when Britain’s social structure was undergoing radical changes. The strict hierarchical divisions of the Edwardian era was disappearing and many amongst the landed gentry were beginning to feel like relics of history, unable to find a place in the new world order. Waters writing style is engaging and effortlessly draws the reader into her story. The characters are sympathetic and troubled, and the growing tension in the book leaves you increasingly uneasy but wanting to know more. Waters said in her talk that she wanted to leave the ending open, but that she had left enough detail/clues for the reader to work out what happened in the end. Many readers voiced their confusion over the ending, but I liked it. The Little Stranger is a measured, confident novel that really sends a chill down your spine.

I’m now reading The Nightwatch and it’s brilliant.

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