The Little Stranger is a good old-fashioned gothic mystery set in the 1940s, in an old and stately English house which is just as much a character as the Ayers family who inhabits it. We first "meet" Hundreds Hall through Robert Faraday, a local doctor whose mother worked in service at Hundreds when he was young. Some thirty years later, he is called out to care for one of the maids, who has fallen ill. There he also meets Mrs. Ayers and her adult children, Roderick and Caroline. The family has come on hard times since Mrs. Ayers became a widow. Roderick is struggling to cope with the estate he inherited. Money is scarce, and the family has been faced with difficult decisions to make ends meet.
Dr. Faraday offers to treat Roderick's war injury with an experimental procedure, free of charge. And thus he inserts himself into the life of Hundreds Hall, and gets all up in their business. He worries endlessly about Mrs. Ayers, and begins to fancy Caroline. At least that's what he tells us, because Robert is the story's narrator. He spends more and more time at Hundreds Hall. When Mrs. Ayers decides to give a party, the first in years, he finds himself on the guest list -- unusual due to their different social classes. Things begin to unravel at the party, when the family dog Gyp bites a young guest and leaves her severely disfigured. Progressively weirder things happen, with progressively greater impact on the emotional well-being of the Ayers family members. And Hundreds Hall falls into an even greater state of disrepair. It appears some sort of ghost is terrorizing the household, and it's very creepy indeed.
I was constantly torn while reading this book. My literary mind wanted to believe there was a ghost because after all, this is a gothic mystery/ghost story. My rational, analytical side dismissed that as nonsense and looked for a rational, analytical cause for all these mishaps. When I finished the book, I still wasn't sure. The ending is such that Waters might have given me the rational answer, which gave the story a chilling psychological thriller angle. Or she didn't, and there was just a lot of inexplicable weird and creepy stuff going on.
If I could rewrite the ending, I know what I'd do. But I can't tell you; you'll have to read this book and form your own conclusions. I ended up docking my rating 1/2 star because it all left me rather frustrated.
Cross-posted from my blog