June 28th, 2009 | Oddments, Other Projects
QTP: The first thing I notice is what the book lacks: queer romance of any sort; the kind of narrative tricks that Waters has employed very effectively in Fingersmith and The Night Watch, among others; and then, of course, the lack of a conventional resolution to the ghost story in which we find out what’s haunting Hundreds Hall and why. So my process as a reader was to go back and stop seeing it as lack, and start seeing it as a different kind of substance.
AB: (The QTP wants me to mention that she is not treating this as a serious writing assignment because she’s feeling quite sick right now, but I have to tell you, she reeled off that whole sentence out loud, just like that, to me, semicolons and all.) You mean you actually went back and started re-reading at the point you noticed these missing elements?
QTP: No, I just rethought. I have a lot of questions. In what ways does the doctor’s arrival precipitate the supernatural occurrences, and why. And, two kinds of things are happening to the house. It’s physically deteriorating, and it’s haunted. Are we supposed to see those as manifestations of the same thing, even though they seem so different, one natural, one supernatural?
AB: Obviously the supernatural activity picked up after the doctor started coming to the house, but there was something going on even before, right? Betty the housemaid was talking about something scary before the doctor even got there. Maybe that could just have been because she was new at the house, and young, so she was scared in general. But of course I kept growing increasingly suspicious of the doctor as the book progressed. I couldn’t trust him as a narrator, but in the end it turns out he was more or less trustworthy.
QTP: He wasn’t radically untrustworthy, as in a Poe story.
AB: When we first talked about the book, you were disappointed by it, and I was trying to explain why I wasn”t.
QTP: I’m not sorry I read it. I think Sarah Waters is so brilliant, and so when she writes this novel that appears to be unfinished, somewhere hidden within it must be the key that makes everything fall into place. But I never figured out what that might be. I had a theory about time. Betty near the end seems to be a year off from the age she’s supposed to be. Was that supposed to tip us off to some kind of temporal aberration in the novel, or the doctor’s unreliability?
AB: Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I derived satisfaction from my dissatisfaction. As I read, my expectations were constantly being foiled or turned back on me, with nothing resolved in any kind of conventional way. Kind of what I imagine a week-long tantric orgy might be like. No orgasm, perhaps, but such intense pleasure and such a deeply altered consciousness that orgasm starts to look pretty paltry in comparison.
And in the end, what more can you ask of a novel than that you lose a couple nights of sleep to it? I was completely immersed in the world of Hundreds Hall, even when I put the book down and did other things. I guess reading any good book is sort of like being haunted, whether it’s a ghost story or not. And to me, The Little Stranger was a book about reading.