The Little Stranger

June 28th, 2009 | Uncategorized

little stranger

Time to talk about The Little Stranger. My pal, the Queer Theory Professor, is going to help me get the ball rolling.

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.

156 Responses to “The Little Stranger”

  1. Peeka says:

    I was completely enthralled with this book and couldn’t stop thinking about it for days after I read it. I was frustrated with the ending because I wanted to KNOW what that ghost was. Is it possible that each of the members of the family are visited by a different form of the poltergeist? The last one that causes Carolyn’s death may be some version of the Dr. since she recognizes it. I felt that his desire to live in that house along with his unresolved class issues created a malevolent energy that manifests itself to each family member. I’d love to know what others thought that ghost was.

  2. Andrew B says:

    I doubt that there was anything supernatural going on before Dr Faraday showed up. His first (adult) visit to Hundreds was exactly what it appeared to be: a very young, not very happy serving girl getting the creeps in a big weird house with an odd family. I think what happened, to the extent that I can figure it out, is that she gave Dr Faraday an idea.

    As far as his reliability goes, I think he’s too reliable about what he does tell us. Case in point: he tells the story of Mrs Ayres getting locked in the nursery in far too much detail. How does he know all that? Unless, of course, he was in some sense there.

    I hope I’m not being coy. I’m trying to say I think there was a single poltergeist on the loose, and it was Dr Faraday’s spirit or shadow or whatever we’re supposed to call these things. We’re told in the very first chapter who “the little stranger” is, the one who chips away at the house. And in the last sentence of the book we’re told who the ghost looks like.

    I didn’t feel the book held together very well, but that’s the best theory I’ve come up with. I’m more with the QTP than Alison: it’s Sarah Waters, so it must be good; no tantric orgy. Although I almost agree with Alison that it’s a book about reading. To me it’s a book about writing, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Lots more to say, but I’d like to see what others think first.

  3. Feminista says:

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  4. Ted says:

    I also don’t think there was anything happening before the Doctor arrived. Andrew, if I read you correctly you think the “Hundreds” was not involved in the hauntings at all except as a vessel for Dr. F’s bad “miasma”or whatever you want to call it (bad vibes maybe).

    In my opinion the house took the Doc’s subconscious class hatred and love and desire for the house and used them to enact its evil (would diabolical be better) plan. That plan being riding itself of the people that let its glory go to seed and no longer really care for it.

    Actually at the end we only know what the last ghost looks like. Did not Mrs. Ayres daughter appear to her as her daughter? Roderick sees nothing but fire and scorch marks and furniture that has been moved.

    The ending shows the house has won and Faraday is hard at work with a broom completely unaware of his part in all that took place before.

    I enjoyed the book. I thought it gave a nice look at class structure in England post WWII.It also leaves open what really happened at the “Hundreds”. Cut and dried is never good for ghost/haunting stories.

    I thought the lead up to Caroline at the end took rather long but we were also looking at Faraday’s descent into a sort of madness.

  5. M-H says:

    Hurrah! It’s the 28th in Vermont and we can start!

    I loved this book. I think that what I liked best was the way SW captured the post-war period in the UK: the poverty, lack of food and clothing (rationing wasn’t abolished until into the 50s), the misery of the winters. The issues of isolation, even in such a closely settled countryside, because of the bad roads. (He has to stitch the girl’s face on the kitchen table because the ten miles (from memory) to the hospital would be too difficult in a car. No ambulances.) I liked the way SW entered into the doctor’s way of being; the kind of work he was doing, the way he understood his place in the world, the way his needs had been postponed for so long and now he is about to see them all come to fruition. I think his feeling for Carolyn is quite genuine – in the terms of an educated but rather limited man of his time – but his own needs are so great that he is blind to hers.

    Now, I think that he sneaked into the house and killed Carolyn. Really. His story about sitting in his car all night is untrue. It’s a kind of “if I can’t have her no-one can” response to what she is doing. She is ”getting away with” destroying what he took to be his future, and he won’t have it. Which then means that everything he has already said might be a lie. He may have had much more involvement in what has gone on that he has reported. I think he may in fact be radically untrustworthy, QTP.

    At which point I suppose I should start re-reading, and see if I can find points at which his influence might have aided and supported the poltergeist. But I probably won’t. Others may find things I’ve missed.

    Another thing about the poltergeist – they are usually connected to the presence in a household of a young girl, and the disruptions seem to have begun with the arrival of Betty, which would make sense.

  6. alifbaa says:

    I was a little disappointed too – being too rigid a sceptic about the supernatural I could enjoy the way that Waters played with our willingness as readers to suspend disbelief in ‘Affinity’, but here I felt I was being asked to sign away too much without a clear reason. I found the writing about the period so absorbing and convincing that I found myself trying to imagine it as a parallel novel, with the ghost story taken out. I was struck by the ‘novelish’ feel that the period detail gave me – ‘green baize’ and ‘deal tables’ for me are things from novels (of the period) but I don’t actually know what they are – I entertained the possibility that Waters didn’t know either, though I’m sure she’s done her research meticulously.

    Waters has commented about deliberately leaving the meaning of the events in this novel unresolved to some degree, so I think our questions are justified. But we do all seem to have been trying to find a satisfying resolution or pattern within it as we read. For me the story that held the whole book together was the sinister, possessive love story between the doctor and the house, and yes, I concluded that it was that story which was manifesting in all the other events. It is only Caroline who, perhaps, sees the manifestation in the form of the doctor, but his repressed energies manifest to the other characters in the form that affects them most. Caroline’s final encounter certainly makes most sense if it is him that she sees – the number of times earlier in the book that she has shrunk away from him or backed off from his advance makes this final encounter a horrible, heightened replay.

  7. Ian says:

    @alifbaa: ‘green baize’ is like the cloth you get on pool/snooker/billiard tables and is used on certain kinds of tables where they play cards.

  8. Renee S. says:

    Mrs. Ayers’ nursery incident reminded me of a short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman called “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which is a study of a woman driven to madness. Read this at:
    I find that the similarities between “The Yellow Wallpaper” are so striking (to include the same amount of syllables in both titles) that I wonder if Waters may have used Gilman’s study as a model for her own work.
    Does anybody think I’m way off base here?

  9. Renee S. says:

    dang. Should have said “similarities between “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “The Little Stranger…”

  10. Renee S. says:

    and syllables don’t match. need to preview more closely.

  11. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    @Renee S, I think you’re on to something. I’m not entirely sure what. Everybody else, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go back and read TLS critically. I was too enthralled by the narrative to ask questions as I read. I thought the poltergeist was different for each participant in the story. For Mrs. Ayres it was Susan her daughter; for Roderick, it was the house itself; I’m not clear on who it was for Caroline, but I liked the idea that it might be the doctor. I don’t think Faraday killed Caroline, I think the poltergeist in the form of Dr. Faraday killed Caroline.

    QTP, feel better sooon. Carry on, I’m going to be reading as you discuss!

  12. Duncan says:

    Huh. I thought that the solution (or “solution” in quotes) was explicit, in the final sentence of the book.

    I’m also a skeptic about the supernatural (maybe that should be in quotes too?), but this is a novel, so I didn’t worry too much about it. If The Little Stranger purported to be a memoir, I wouldn’t take it at face value, but it’s fiction, and very well-made fiction at that. I started reading it on the plane between Tokyo and Detroit a little over a week ago, and finished it before we landed. The story carried me along; it seems more tightly plotted than Waters’s books usually are. I enjoyed reading it much more than The Night Watch, which I ought perhaps to reread. I can’t really see rereading The Little Stranger anytime soon, though, I’d rather go back to her first three.

  13. Cathy M. says:

    What’s fascinating is that I could theorize that different characters are responsible for triggering the supernatural force at work in this novel. Perhaps this is deliberate and the author’s comment that no single factor is responsible for the societal upheaval England experienced following WWII.

    Betty is young and dimunitive and the only major character who had never been to Hundreds Hall long before the story begins–could she be the “little stranger” of the title? As noted by another commenter, poltergeists and other supernatural creatures (e.g., vampires) often are associated with young females just entering the age of sexual desire. She is the first to notice–or at least acknowledge–something creepy about the place, but is never herself physically attacked.

    How about the doctor’s childhood self? At that age, he was a little stranger to Hundreds Hall. His carving out the acorn from the wall clearly is a key element of the story. Did the deterioration perhaps start then?

    I’m not sure how reliable the doctor is as narrator. Is he kidding himself? Is his glimpse of himself in the mirror, full of longing, supposed to make clear that his desires, perhaps symbolizing those of England’s middle class and Labour Party, are destroying the landed gentry? Or is he deliberately telling an untrue story that masks his efforts to destroy the family? Could he have given the dog something that made it aggressive? Could his “treatment” of Roderick have provoked the young man to become mad and commit arson? Did he do something to the nursery to make Mrs. Ayres believe she heard voices? Was he really at Hundreds Hall the night Caroline died and only claiming he spent the night in his car in case someone saw him in the vicinity? I was intrigued that he noted he felt HE was the one on trial when he had to go to the inquest following the daughter’s death.

  14. Andrew B says:

    Renee S, I don’t think you’re way off base — of course that’s not a promise to agree with everything you say, either. Can you tell us more about the similarities you see between the two stories?

    Ted, my way of taking the last sentence is not the only possible one. You could be right. Another possibility is that what the doctor sees is the way the poltergeist would appear to each observer: as him- or herself. And you’re right: I think Hundreds is just a house, stone and wood and plaster with no motivations and no capacity for action. Your alternative is intriguing, though. Can you expand on your idea that the house itself was the poltergeist? If what the house wants is to rid itself of the Ayres, why kill Caroline? Why not let her leave? And at the end, why doesn’t it continue to harm people who don’t care for it, e.g. drop a piece of stone on the children who write graffiti on it?

    M-H, I think the doctor was psychologically capable of killing Caroline as you describe. The problem I’m having is: how did he physically get himself into Hundreds, up to the top floor, kill Caroline (a strong woman), and get out again without getting scratched or bruised, leaving any physical evidence, or being noticed by Betty?

    Ack, this is getting too long. Alifbaa, I agree about the “novelishness” and I don’t think you’re being too skeptical. Alison, if you have time I hope you’ll chime in again about what you liked in the novel.

  15. Cathy M. says:

    I am just now struck by the symbolic importance of Gyp, the black lab. The doctor says he “destroyed” Gyp. The author makes clear that Gyp is old, and he barks ferociously but is not considered much of a threat. He is exceptionally vicious to a little girl who comes from a newly wealthy family of interlopers who lack respect for the customs of the gentry, but this attack ends up being his undoing. Caroline adores him and declines to replace him after he is gone. Then there’s his name, which means fraud or cheat. Hmmm.

  16. grrljock says:

    I agree with Andrew B (#2) that the poltergeist emanated from Dr. F, and that the first chapter was a huge clue. After I read the last sentence, I went back and reread the key parts of the book. I was just struck at all the foreshadowing in the first chapter: the future-Dr. F was there for Empire Fete, and inflicted his first act of destruction to Hundreds, out of longing and love for it. Soon after, the family and the house declined, the British Empire headed into obsolescence, and Dr. F started his journey into class limbo.

    When I was reading it, I kept waiting for something to ‘happen’, in the vein of SW’s first 3 books. But nothing of that sort did, and of course other, more subtle, creepy, and horrific things did. I remember being really annoyed by the Baker-Hydes (from memory) and thinking that child-rearing attitude made them a perfect fit for Berkeley, CA (sorry, pet peeve), then being really chastened by the dog attack.

    I also agree with Andrew B’s opinion of this book being about writing, in that SW did such masterly job of synthesizing her ideas about what effect societal changes in England wrought on people with her research and her fascination with haunted house stories into this subtle and a bit maddening tale.

    So unlike her Victorian trilogy, this won’t be a book I will reread for pleasure. I’m pretty sure I WILL reread it again, to look up other clues I missed the first time around.

  17. NLC says:

    To ask a specific question:
    Up above the point is raised about “green baize” and “deal tables” as examples of “period” references.

    Perhaps someone from “over there” could comment on the extent that these should be considered more along the lines of “Britishisms” instead?

    As a specific example I’ve noticed that “baize” is not uncommon in books by modern British authors; but is something you would see in a book by an American author rarely if at all.

    (A similar issue came up when the Harry Potter books were being publish –e.g. Brishisms like “torch”, “jumper”, “trainers”, “bogies”, etc [just what is the difference between a “git” and “prat” any way?]– to the degree that there were editions that “translated” many of these for American readers.)

    Are there other examples in tLS?

  18. Ted says:

    #14 Andrew.

    Good point about Caroline’s death. As master of the estate Roddy had to be the first to go. Then Mrs Ayres. Then the house would be in the hands of Caroline.

    So why kill her if she was going to leave? Faraday’s original thinking was to have himself and Caroline ensconced in the house and restore it to it’s original glory. But as we know “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”. Caroline wanted to leave. I’m not sure why the house or the Doc would want to kill her. Was the doctor full of rage at being shown the door? He did go rather ballistic at one point with Caroline. Hadn’t she found a buyer for the property?

    When I first started reading I thought perhaps the daughter whose death the family did not talk much about might be the malevolent figure. I kept hoping for CSI to pop in and tell us who made those bites on mommy.

    Damn, Andrew old chap, I think you win the first round. I will be back no matter how sophistic my arguments may be.

  19. Leah Brooks says:

    I was captured by this book, but I was also disappointed by the ending, or should I say, lack of an ending. I kept thinking that Caroline was a closeted lesbian, and that somehow, that sub-plot would be revealed (Betty?). The setting and era was so beautifully written (don’t you feel that you could draw a blueprint of Hundreds Hall?), yet the plot meandered and then dribbled away to nothing. Despite all those deaths!

  20. Diamond says:

    17 NLC – Yes, here in the UK, everyone would know what green baize is – it doesn’t sound particularly archaic to us. (And speaking of US / UK differences, I can’t find one of those criss cross number signs on my keyboard – I don’t think we use them as much as you do.)

    On the Yellow Wallpaper reference, I think I heard a radio interview with Sarah Walters in which she made it clear that this was deliberate.

  21. Alex K says:

    @6 / alifbaa: Deal, archaic even over here. Softwood, the equivalent of American builders’ SPF (spruce – pine – fir). Inexpensive, suited for hard use. To be contrasted with brown furniture, the mahogany and walnut put on display by the wealthy, and with longer-wearing, dearer oak.

    A bit disappointing, the name “Faraday”, with Sir Michael in the background hovering electromagnetically; the associations of “force field” seemed too easily invoked.

  22. Renee S. says:

    #8, 11 & 14
    I had read The Yellow Wallpaper about 5 years ago, and had forgotten about it, but when I began to read the parts from Little Stranger about Mrs. Ayers in the nursery, it immediately jogged my memory. When I picked up Gilman’s story again while reading TLS, I found that it was eerily similar.

    1. Both take place in deteriorating “haunted” mansion/estates.
    2. A “rational” male doctor figure appears in both, and both administer the failing mental health of the characters, yet, at the same time both doctors seem to be partly responsible for the madness.
    3. Both Mrs. Ayers and the woman feel trapped inside their own homes, unable to socialize with others despite their desire to do so.
    4. A key gets thrown out the window and women are locked in a nursery.
    5. Mrs. Ayers thoughts on the nursery wallpaper: …she put a hand to the wall. The wallpaper had a raised pattern of loops and arabesques that had once, she recalled suddenly, been very colourful. It had been painted over with a drab distemper, which the damp was turning to a sort of curd.

    The woman in TYW: The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions–why, that is something like it.

    These are only a few similarities that I see, but overall, I think Gilman and Waters are both talking about women’s oppression here.

    Anyone else see these parallels?

  23. Renee S. says:

    Leah, yes, I was thinking that Caroline was closeted as well.
    I agree that Waters is a master at slowly unraveling stories.

  24. Renee S. says:

    #19, Diamond
    wow! going to look for that radio interview.

  25. Renee S. says:

    #19 Diamond You are right!
    Found it:

    gee, I don’t feel like i’m out in left field after all.

  26. Renee S. says:

    oops, Diamond #20, not 19

  27. AEB says:

    #25 Thanks for posting this link–SW makes an interesting comment about Faraday ending up being more of an agent than she had imagined him when she started out. My take on his role in Caroline’s death was similar to T&StJ (11)–he didn’t do the killing literally but his unhappiness with not being able to control Caroline and fulfill his fantasy about living at Hundreds, gave the poltergeist its form (and maybe its source of energy).

    Seems to me the way things played out for each of the Ayres was tied to their individual suffering (Roderick trying to manage the estate and ultimately “escaping” that impossible task by being deemed mad, Mrs. Ayres mourning her dead daughter and ultimately being reunited with her by being killed by her (my reading of it)), it would also make sense to me that if Caroline’s suffering had to do with really being fully herself, following her own inclinations in life as a whole, let alone sexually, independent of the lingering expectations of her class, the only way in this tale she could hope to be free would be to be dead…

    I have the sense this argument isn’t hanging together very tightly but I’m too tired tonight to do anything about it. I’ll be interested to check in with others’ observations tomorrow…

  28. blue says:

    Waters wrote a piece recently for The Guardian talking about the inspiration for this novel:

  29. Andrew B says:

    Renee S, nice, you noticed more parallels than I did. The one that occurred to me is that in both stories there are ghosts and there is madness, but it’s not clear what’s causing what: are characters going crazy because they’re being harassed by ghosts, or do they think they’re seeing ghosts because they’re going crazy?

    Re Caroline being closeted, it’s plausible. She seems to have been happiest in the Wrens, an all-female corps. But that could also have been due to being away from her family and Hundreds. Her rejection of Dr F could simply be due to a recognition that he is not right for her. So, a possibility but I can’t see any way to resolve it for sure.

    A related thought: does anyone think that Dr F could have been deeply, deeply closeted? Just that his relationships with women are so infrequent and so awkward. (I realize out gay men often have great friendships with women. I’m asking about the closet.) Not the same question, but related: would it help us understand his class self-hatred to see it as analogous to the closet?

    Ted, hm, my style is argumentative (even I can’t debate that!) but if it feels like a boxing match I hope it’s a friendly one, where we can get a couple of beers afterward.

    NLC, were you looking for something as simple as “bonnet” rather than “hood” (on a car)?

  30. Dr. Empirical says:

    I, too was disappointed in the ending, or rather lack thereof. Of course, I was equaly disappointd with the ending of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”: “That’s IT?! They just… DRIVE OFF?!” and that’s widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, so what do I know?

    I see the book as a study in class interactions, with the poltergeist angle thrown in as a trick to keep us reading.

    I’d assumed from the beginning that Betty was the source of the poltergiest, because girls her age are the usual source. That’s not an absolute rule, though, and it certainly could be Faraday. In fact, that would explain a few things.

    There’s at least one scene, for example, that is vividly described despite the fact tht Faraday was not present to witness it. I had put that down to sloppy writing, but wasn’t comfortable with that explanation because of how respectd Waters is among correspondents on this site. Better to assume Faraday knew because he saw through the eyes of the poltergeist or because he was lying about his own actions.

    On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a book written in the first person in which the narrator lies to the reader. It strikes me as a cheap device.

    Bottom line, I’m glad I read it, but I have no great desire to seek out other books by Waters.

  31. NLC says:

    – Andrew (29)
    I guess I’m not really looking for anything in particular but if anyone notices any “interesting” examples, it might be worth noting.

    There’s the old saying about “two peoples separated by a single language”. Those of a certain age may remember all the brouhaha and speculation about the meaning of the title of the Beatles’ single “Day Tripper”; a perfectly common British expression, but which was utterly foreign and fraught with exotic meaning to most American ears.

    Likewise, I’ve been told by British (and, especially, Australian) friends that there is no end of hilarity when, while watching sports on US TV one player is said to smack another on “the fanny” –the term, while still “anatomical”, apparently having a decidedly more, um, “feminine” connotation across the pond. (Indeed, the rumor was that while filming Emma Thompson’s adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” that there was pressure to change the name of the evil sister-in-law “Fanny”.)

    For that matter, how did the Disney movie about the pet killer whale from a few years back, “Free Willy”, play in the UK?

  32. grrljock says:

    Dr. Empirical (#30), sounds like you didn’t really enjoy this reading assignment. However, you may like SW’s other books, especially the Victorian trilogy, as they’re really different in tone and structure than tLS. As has been mentioned, SW is very good at reflecting the period through the use of terms and phrasings in her prose. And you may buy into the sometimes dizzying plot turns in ‘Tipping the Velvet’, ‘Affinity’, or ‘Fingersmith’ more than the 40’s paranormal story of tLS.

    And speaking of SW’s influences, ‘Fingersmith’ turned me on to ‘The Woman in White’ (by Wilkie Collins), which I had not read before. I got an audiobook version of it, and I was pleased to learn that TWiW still held up very nicely. (though I always had to quell the urge to kick the simpering, passive Laura Fairlie in the arse). I find it interesting that the strong female character in that book, Marian Halcombe, is very definitely described as ‘ugly’.

  33. Donna says:

    QTP states that “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.” Well, maybe for her there is no key? I mean, if Lorrie Moore’s new novel comes out in September and it doesn’t fulfill my idolatry-inflated expectations, I may have deal with reordering things in the mental shrines to writers department, but my view won’t be that I couldn’t find the key.

  34. Ally says:

    hmmm….It seems like everyone is in agreement that we looking for something that fell short, or were seeing things around corners that weren’t there when we turned the page.

    I did have a growing haunting that Dr. Faraday was not trustworthy as the book progressed. A few things which tipped me off; In describing his parents, he admitted that his class climbing ambition in the medical field is what broke his parents financially and physically, and he showed only perfunctory remorse. How he more or less availed himself upon the family looking for any in into home and trust. The love story between Caroline and the Doctor seemed a late comer to the story line, He thought her plainness and heavy handedness unbecoming through most of the story. How his devotion seemed false and calculated like he was trying to get to the heart of Hundreds through her heart. His juvenile breakdown when he thought he would loose his Squiredom at her refusal.

    I kept thinking the house itself was the physiological source of the haunting. Ie: the black spots in Roderick’s room were some kind of toxic mold that was poisoning them slowly and they were having auditory and visual hallucinations and deranged thoughts. I had heard that around the time spiritualism became a cultural force, many Victorians were switching to gas lighting and heat and that gas poisoning was responsible for large numbers of supposed ghost sightings from the sensory symptoms of a failing nervous system. Stuff like hearing sounds like furniture moving, sensations of touch in their extremities, visual blurring and movement in their peripheral vision. At first I thought the doctor was in the story to unravel this medical mystery of their poisoning. Then as I began to trust him less and less and it became apparent that the ending would be bleak, I imagined him perpetrating some kind of chemical trap to create the ghost in their failing nervous systems.

  35. M-H says:

    What a marvellous discussion! Lots of ideas. I think I should schedule in a more critical re-read.

    The language Dr Faraday uses seemed me exactly right, and that’s not an easy thing to pull off in a novel this long. The first time he arrives at the Hall as an adult he uses the phrase “I put on my brakes”. That really stopped me – we’d say “I braked”. These are the kinds of anachronisms that tell me that what I am reading has been written by someone who has immersed themselves in the mores of the time in which they are writing. The slowness of the narrative echoes beautifully the exhaustion of the whole country at that time. I don’t know if you get to watch Foyles War in the US or Canada, but the last few eps of that program really conveyed the exhaustion, depression, grief and just lack of joy in living that the British were suffering at the end of the six years of a war that had followed the Great Depression. Dr Faraday is a kind of exemplar of the British working-class man who broke the class mold after the First War, but only in a limited way, has endured the years of depression and the Second War, and now sees a glimmer of hope to remake himself and join another strata of a society that is still fairly rigid, but beginning to crack apart.

    There is so much to say about this book, I think. Looking forward to some more ideas.

  36. Chana says:

    I did initially think Dr. Faraday was the ghost-or at least that he was a representation of the ghost, which I agree was really something about class tensions. What really killed them all, it seems to me, is the imperative not to renege on their pre-War status-and you can think of that as a ghost, but also as a real force in their lives. Gyp and Dr. Faraday are both manifestations of that imperative. So you can read this as a ghost story with a real ghost-but I think you can also read it as a mythologization (is that a word?) of something that really happened to people during that time. It’s a particularly vivid and wild way of writing a story about being trapped by your context, because we tend to believe that we should be able to override our contexts. Especially in fiction. It almost makes it more plausible for Sarah Waters to say that these people were trapped by an agentive being, or a series of them. It is kinda like the Yellow Wallpaper in that sense too-because indeed Gilman was trapped by her historical era and culture too.
    I don’t think Caroline or the Dr. have to be gay, although I kind of hoped Caroline was…the doctor could have been awkward with women for other reasons. making that kind of class shift is not that easy-and as a result he seems not to have had much opportunity to meet women at all. And he definitely was trying to climb into a class that idealized male-female relations, which can’t have helped.
    Yikes, this is long and mostly obvious-but does anyone think the idea of a Little stranger is actually kind of just an effort to pretend something’s not going on? In reality whatever it is is not little, since it’s causing so much havoc, and it’s not really a stranger, either-it’s something deeply ingrained in their house, their psyches, whatever. I feel like the title is kind of a sardonic comment on people’s ability to ignore or minimize disaster. Although that might be reading too much into it.

  37. Andrew B says:

    M-H, re language, yes. I enjoyed how Waters made Dr F write “f-ck” and “f-cking” instead of spelling the words out.

    Dr E, I liked The Night Watch much better than the The Little Stranger. I wouldn’t give up on Waters based on TLS. And I don’t know that much about it, but I think “unreliable narrators” have been popular over the last forty years or so. One fine book that uses a subtly unreliable narrator is Russell Banks’s Affliction — very un-Sarah Watersish and possibly not the best example of the device. If others can cite better examples of the unreliable narrator, please do. (You probably could find “unreliable narrator” on Wikipedia, but I haven’t checked.)

    I thought the last chapter of TLS was pretty good, with the image of Dr F sweeping the rat shit out of the empty halls, and the chilling last sentence. The book seemed “unfinished” in the sense of unpolished or not solidly constructed. Too many loose ends or awkward shifts.

    – The Baker-Hydes show up, behave strangely (bringing a little girl to a cocktail party), are intensely involved in the story (forcing Gyp to be killed), and then vanish forever. It felt forced.

    – Gothic novel themes that lead nowhere. Many people have mentioned Betty, but she is not developed. Incest. When Roddy is cracking up, at one point Caroline gets in bed with him, but nothing is made of this. The tyrant in his castle. A common story line in Gothic tales is a girl or young woman held prisoner by a tyrant in a castle. Caroline is in a sense being held prisoner. Is the colonel the tyrant? He’s dead. Is the house the tyrant? I dunno — isn’t it the castle? What about Dr F? Is there anything to this at all? I dunno.

    – In the 1907 photo (possibly including Dr F’s mother), the colonel’s parents seem to have a large family, including one infant. By 1919 there’s no mention of them, and by 1949 they seem to have vanished. (It’s Mrs Ayres’s sister who tries to help after her death.)

    – Caroline and her mother find the money to put Roderick in an expensive private clinic.

    – The colonel dies rather young: he’s about 15 in 1907 and dead by 1949. Possible, but suspiciously convenient. (Could he be the ghost, angry at his heirs’ failure to maintain Hundreds? Dunno.)

    – Dr F’s lack of self-awareness is so extreme as to damage credibility, particularly when it comes to practical matters like figuring out where he will get the money to take care of Hundreds.

    It’s one thing to write a book with a limited number of specific ambiguities or questions. Reality isn’t always crystalline. But it’s another to place the reader in a generalized state of confusion and never resolve it. This is especially a problem when the book exceeds the bounds of ordinary reality, as in SF, fantasy, or horror, so readers don’t know what they can take for granted. TLS felt slack to me. And spending more than 400 pages in the company of someone as unpleasant as Dr F was a real slog. He’s not even funny, or observant. No redeeming qualities at all.

  38. Duncan says:

    I agree that Faraday wasn’t the most appealing narrator, but I didn’t find him unpleasant until the very end, when his desire to control Caroline became overt. Maybe it’s my own class background that made me identify with him much of the time. (I also kept reading him as a coded tomboy/lesbian in the sections dealing with his childhood, though I know that Waters wouldn’t need to hide a lesbian character in her fiction.)
    I didn’t feel that The Little Stranger was “slack,” I thought it was very tightly written, but I doubt it will be one of my favorite SW books.

    One thing I forgot to mention before: by chance I found a copy of Setting the World on Fire, a 1980 novel by Angus Wilson just before my vacation, so I took it along and read it too. Wilson (1913-1991) was gay, worked as a code-breaker during WWII, and dealt with gay or bisexual characters, usually male, in most of his fiction. I read several of his books in the 1970s and 80s. This one, coincidentally, though it’s not a ghost story, is also about a great old English country house, told from the viewpoint of two brothers who may or may not inherit it. It’s worth a look if you like Brit fiction. Has anyone else read any Wilson?

  39. Liz in Madison says:

    I was very disappointed in the book, as well. It reminded me of “Edgar Sawtelle,” another really long book in which the ending is a huge let-down & many readers felt like they had been required by the author to read a lot of pages that ultimately came to naught. I was esp. disappointed that there was no gay content and, like Leah B., hoped that Caroline would be revealed as a closeted lesbian!

  40. Not sure if I’ll be reading this one. Loved the supernatural elements in Affinity, but couldn’t finish the The Night Watch because of its paucity of romance or sex. Decisions, decisions.

  41. Dr. Empirical says:

    I knew there’d be no lesbian content, because I’d heard the NPR interview before I bought the book.

    I did enjoy Waters’ use of language.

    Andrew (37) Matt Ruff’s latest book, Bad Monkeys has an unreliable narrator, but the book is structured as an interviewer, so the narrator is lying to the interrogator, not to us. The ongoing revisions of the lies are an important part of the book.

    I wouldn’t mind if Faraday was lying to himself, but the implication here is that he’s lying to us while knowing full well he’s doing so.

  42. M-H says:

    “I wouldn’t mind if Faraday was lying to himself, but the implication here is that he’s lying to us while knowing full well he’s doing so.”

    This. Yes.

  43. Ian says:

    @Duncan #38: Thanks for the tip about Angus Wilson. I’d not heard of him and I know about most of the Brit gay authors (though not all). When I’ve finished the half-dozen books I’ve got on the go right now I’ll try and dig out one or two of his books to sample. If I remember!

  44. an australian in london says:

    Topic hijack. Not that you need to discuss this. But yikes! it all makes sense now. Why my friend was PARTICULARLY interested in this blog when I showed it to her, and not just because the post was about menopause. She’s in a twelve year relationship and I’ve known her for three years and been to her house several times and everything, and she just comes out to me today. On top of all the upheaval going on in my own life, it’s enough to give a girl insomnia – and it has. It reminded me so much of the first time I came out to someone important to me. I had the same wrenching in my gut, only not as extreme.

    There are still people living secretly queer lives in 21st century Britain! London Boy, social rights are SO important. Sorry I ever contradicted you.

  45. an australian in london says:

    Oh, by the way, I’m giving her a copy of The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For as a coming out present tomorrow.

  46. an australian in london says:

    Yes, I know I should’ve punctuated the Book title, and it makes it hard to read. It’s 2.43 in the morning!

  47. Alex K says:

    @37 / Andrew B: An unreliable narrator — the governess in THE TURN OF THE SCREW.

  48. NLC says:

    Another notable example of an “unreliable narrator” was the main character in Anthony Burgess’ _Earthly Powers_.

    The story is spread across the first 2/3 of the 20th century with the narrator interacting with various famous people and events, and depicting the stories always to his own advantage (although it was never clear that he didn’t believe his own lies).

    Burgess later complained several times about letters from –and reviews by– readers who didn’t get the “joke” and blamed the narrator’s inaccuracies on him [the author]: “You idiot, James Joyce wasn’t in Zurich in 1914!!”

  49. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    I’m interested in the discussion about Dr. Faraday as unreliable narrator, and it lead me to the thought that maybe the ghost wasn’t reliable either. The ghost tortures different people in different ways, appearing to each in the form that would cause the hauntee the most distress. I find this particularly true in the case of Mrs. Ayres. And in each case, the haunting leads to the subject’s death or madness.

    I also wonder what AB meant by the book being about reading. At least part of this discussion has been about what we didn’t find in the book, such as gay characters or the identity of the ghost. Can we characterize the book as an unreliable narrative?

  50. Ian says:

    Hmmm, a spirit that appears to someone as the thing that would cause it most fear? That sounds like a boggart to me … 😉

  51. Diamond says:

    Anyone read Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal? I’d say this is an interesting example of a novel with an unreliable (and dislikable) narrator, and a lesbian theme. Not always a comfortable read though.

  52. Diamond says:

    Oh, and please ignore the crass film that dispensed with all the subtlety of the novel

  53. Anonymous says:

    #52 Diamond: Was that the Judy Dench film about a predatory Lesbian teacher? I thought it was pretty gay-negative for something made so recently. Never heard of the novel.

  54. Ian says:

    Of course, the book with the most unreliable narrator is Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd!”

  55. mary(an) the librarian says:

    this is KILLING me! i borrowed the book from the library and have returned it, so i can’t look up the last line. can someone please post it? i don’t imagine it will be any more of a spoiler than the rest of the discussion, right??

  56. Andrew B says:

    I assume anyone who’s worried about spoilers is not reading this thread. mary(an):

    “… Every so often I’ll sense a presence, or catch a movement at the corner of my eye, and my heart will give a jolt of fear and expectation: I’ll imagine that the secret is about to be revealed to me at last; that I will see what Caroline saw, and recognise it, as she did.

    “If Hundreds Hall is haunted, however, its ghost doesn’t show itself to me. For I’ll turn, and am disappointed — realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.”

  57. mary(an) the librarian says:

    thank you Andrew B!!

  58. Ready2Agitate says:

    Wow – I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it, so I just bagged this whole discussion, only to now see that there’s an intentional tip of the nib (heh) to the Yellow Wallpaper (thanks to Renee!), so now I must read it, because that was an amazingly written little study in madness….

  59. Diamond says:

    53 Anonymous – Yes, I’d say gay negative is quite a polite description of the film . . .

  60. Kate L says:

    (Kate looks in from the other room)

    Hi, all.

    Just checking in from the previous post, where a bunch of us are still hanging out. How is everyone doing?

  61. NLC says:

    The new musical Fun Home — penned by Tony nominees Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori — will be part of the 12th annual Ojai Playwrights Conference in August.[…]

    […]FUN HOME
    By Lisa Kron (writer) and Jeanine Tesori (composer)
    “A musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s acclaimed graphic novel, ‘Fun Home.’ The book charts Alison’s attempt to understand her father through the common and unspoken bond of their homosexuality.”

    (Story is [Here] .)

    Do I sense a field trip coming up?

  62. Kate L says:

    (Anonymous #53)
    I remember the ads for the Judy Dench film, whose title also escapes me. I remember thinking that it was both homophobic and age-phobic in Dench’s portrayal of a predatory older lesbian.

    (Kate leaves for a moment, then runs back in from the other room looking excited)
    Hey, everybody, Renee just announced on the previous post that Sarah Palin has quit as governor of Alaksa! It’s TRUE!!! I just heard Palin’s weird, rambling, spookily rapid-talk press statement to the press outide a house in Wasilla, followed by her walking off without taking questions. Strange. This WOULD happen the week Rachel Maddow is one vacation! Here is Joan Walsh’s take on today’s thriller in Wasilla, courtesy of the Salon web site:

  63. Kate L says:

    (Kate slows down, catches her breath)
    Notes on a Scandal. That’s the name of the Judy Dench movie Anonymous asked about (#53). Zoë Heller wrote the initial novel version in 2003. I know because it says so in Wikipedia.

  64. Anonymous says:

    #37: Agatha Christie wrote a novel where in the end the narrator turns out to be the murderer he had seemed to help chase all the time. As the narrator played the role of Poirots confidant this was a mean trick that played with the reader’s assumption that Poirot’s helper has to be a nice guy.

  65. Ready2Agitate says:

    Book hijack: NYT yesterday on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new collection of stories, with references to her “Half a Yellow Sun” – here:

  66. Andrew B says:

    Michelle, #40, if you’re looking for sex and romance definitely give The Little Stranger a pass. There’s none of the former and perhaps maybe a tiny bit of what you could palm off as the latter, sort of.

    Dr E and M-H (41 & 42), why would it bother you if Faraday were intentionally lying to us? What bothers me about the possibility of Faraday as an unreliable narrator is that the various possibilities for the story remain so diffuse and unfocused. But if Waters had clarified what she was trying to get at with the story, it wouldn’t bother me if it turned out that Faraday was deliberately lying (as opposed to being self-deceived, insane, or something similar). What I have in mind is that he would have told us one thing explicitly, but also reported other information which would implicitly contradict the first claim. This is something that unreliable narrators do — it’s what lets us identify them as unreliable. Assuming Waters had used some such device to make clear to us what question she was trying to raise, why would it bother you if the question involved Faraday lying?

  67. Alex the Bold says:

    In no particular order:

    The book with the most unreliable narrator? Anything by Henry Kissinger. That corpus of work will, of course, be surpassed by any presidential memoir (crayon on butcher paper, no doubt) by George W. Bush.

    Next, the difference between a “git” and “prat”? Much like how a raven is like a writing desk. Actually, I suspect the difference is like the difference between a whore and a harlot. By the time you’re close enough to figure it out, it’s too late to do anything about it.

    Next, I misread the librarian’s question about the last line in the novel. I thought she was asking for the last line in The Murder of Roger Aykroyd, a book I read one time, at least 20 years ago. And goddamnit if that last line didn’t pop into my head after about all of three seconds’ effort: Something very like, “I wish he had not come [here] to grow marrows.” Heaven forfend I be able to have that sort of recall for something important, as I stood in the supermarket this afternoon talking to myself like an escapee from the mental hospital trying to remember what one of two items I could not remember (it was toilet paper, and I’m not going to say how I finally remembered that I had forgotten to buy it).

    Happy Fourth everyone. Or as they say in England, “Happy, Give the Crybaby Americans Their Sad Little Country Day.”

  68. Anonymous says:

    A ‘git’ is mean, a ‘prat’ is foolish.

  69. Ian says:

    @Alex the Bold #67: We don’t say that in England! We just roll our eyes, tut gently and say “only in America!”

  70. Andrew B says:

    A the B, happy Independence Day to you too. I hope it ends for you better than it seems to have begun. Gotta hate supermarket amnesia, especially when it affects (cough) necessities.

  71. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Thanks, Anonymous #68! A nice distinction.

  72. Alex the Bold says:

    And for God’s sake, everyone! Don’t hold the firecrackers after lighting them. Here, let me show you [lights M-80] what I mean. It’s very important to keep track — OWWWWWW! Omigod! Someone, grab a clean towel. Oh my God!!!!!!!

  73. freyakat says:

    Hi everbody,

    I just love this blog!!!

    I’ve been reading since the blog started, and I post every once in a while.

    A question from an ultra-non-tech person: Is there a way, after I’ve finished reading reply
    #y and left the blog for a period of time, I can
    come back here and pick up at #y (or wherever) without having to scroll all the way down — which sometimes takes a long time… ?

  74. Ready2Agitate says:

    I think you can just hit the “End” key above your cursors to get to the very last post. Or perhaps it’s end. Wait – I’ll go get Hairball from the other room….

    ps Freyakat, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a regular! 🙂

  75. Ready2Agitate says:

    oops I put the word cntrl in those greater/lesser arrowhead brackets an’ it disappeared.

  76. Renee S. says:

    Just finished reading Fingersmith! wow!
    What a careening ride

  77. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Freyakat (#73)

    If I’m reading your question correctly, you’re looking for a method to “mark” your last read post, so that you pick up at the next unread one, correct? Alas, this blog software isn’t like some other forums, where you log in and can filter by read/unread posts.

    There is a kludgy method to sort of do what you’re looking for, which is to have an easy method to get to your last read post. The date/timestamp under each user’s name is a link. If you RIGHT-CLICK on it, then save as a bookmark (or favorite, if you’re using that toxic browser IE), you can then return to it by clicking on the bookmark/favorite. Of course, then you have to clean up after yourself in your bookmarks or you’ll have a pile of dreck in there.

    If you’re simply looking for a quick way to get down to the bottom of the page (which is what R2A was referring to), you can hit [CTRL][END]. This assumes, of course, that you are reading on a device that has a keyboard with these keys. If you’re reading this on a phone (or maybe a Kindle, I have no idea what keys are available on a Kindle), you are SOL (shit-outta-luck).

    Hope that helps.

  78. ksbel6 says:

    I usually read on a phone, and I’ve started just hitting “leave a reply” on the post that I want to read. That puts me at the bottom and then I can just scroll up to the number I need from there. It’s not perfect, but it does save lots of scrolling.

  79. Jain says:

    I sometimes leave the page open. Then I I can check the number of the last post I read before I go back to the header and open it again to see everything new.

  80. Ted says:

    On most browsers you can use the “find” function to locate a post. Oddly enough on the four browsers I tried none would find the post #. Just write down the time of the post (like 8:05)and when you come back enter it into the find box (cntrl F usually) and you’re there. Might be more than one match but probably not more than a couple.

    HoH, I know you’re good at this. Why doesn’t the post number show up in the source?

  81. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Ted (#80)

    I’m not an HTML guru; Iara takes that title, but the real person to ask is Alison AG. I believe the reason you don’t see the comment number in the source is because it is a dynamically-generated number, and is formatted into place by the style sheet here:

    And of course, if it’s not in the source, you can’t use [FIND] to locate it.

    I like ksbel6’s method of clicking on the ‘Leave a Response’ link to quickly get to the bottom of the page on keyboard-less devices.

  82. freyakat says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for helping me out with this. HoH’s
    Control – End did the trick for me on my Dell
    plain-old-computer that I maybe sometime will
    have the impetus to learn how to use…..

  83. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Freyakat (#82)

    Glad that worked out for you. To quickly get back to the top of the page, use [CTRL][HOME].

  84. Ian says:

    @freyakat: I’m using Firefox and usually when I read a post I’ll reply to something – not all the time! But what I do is use the ‘Find’ function and search for my name and I very quickly find the last post I made and can pick up the discussion from there. Usually the last post acts as an aide-memoire to remind me what point the discussion has reached!

  85. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Thanks for the useful information, but I guess the book is no longer the focus of the discussion. My favorite part of the discussion is Ian’s use of the word “aide-memoire.” As long as we can stay bilingual, we can always find a home in LBGT.

  86. AlisonAG says:


    HoH is right, the numbers are generated from the stylesheet (which looks for anything called an “ordered list” and decides how it’s numbered… decimal, roman numerals, alphabetical, etc) so they appear on the screen but not in the source code which means you can’t use the find function.

    I usually jump to the bottom and work my way up.

  87. Andrew B says:

    AlisonAG, HoH, 81 & 86, Safari 4 will find text I have entered in the “Leave a Reply” text area. Obviously that text is not in the html source. So “find” is working on some representation of the page that includes more than the html source but does not include the numerals inserted in front of each ordered list item.

    This seems odd to me, because the browser must have a representation of the page that includes the numerals. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to scroll around in the page and have the numerals match up consistently with the correct comment. Whatever is used to mark the items in an ordered list has to be a numeral or a letter (or a combination), right? So why not make them searchable?

    Yeah, it’s a busy day here. Nothing but important stuff to think about.

  88. mary(an) the librarian says:

    just wanted to mention that zoe heller, author of “notes on a scandal” will be speaking as part of city arts and lectures in san francisco on december 2nd. more info here:

  89. Diamond says:

    88 mary(an) the librarian – Maybe if anyone’s going you could ask her if she regrets selling the film rights?

    Oh dear, I wish I’d never started this one. I just thought she did the unreliable narrator as real main character thing very well.

  90. Alex K says:

    Apotheosis for Sarah Waters!

    She (and THE LITTLE STRANGER) are tormented in this week’s PRIVATE EYE (cover: Michael Jackson, with the speech balloon “It’s a white day for pop music”).

    Check the FIRST DRAFTS cartoon, p 26.

  91. NLC the librarian\'s husband says:

    Diamond (89):

    I for one am glad the thread got started. I found the movie interesting, but I was intrigued by someone’s (your?) comment that the book was rather better than movie. So, I just started reading it last night.

  92. grrljock says:

    Back to tLS, here is a short interview I found in which SW addressed the ending:

  93. Ted says:

    Grrljock, thanks for the link.Good reading.

    By the way are we going to have another book or was this just a one shot thing? Or did I miss something along the way?

    Andrew if you start a reply and check the source it will appear and so will the preview if you have clicked it.

  94. Timmytee says:

    Off-topic: Does anyone know about a supposed attack on the Internet today, supposedly by N. Korea? Some of my favorite sites, including my Yahoo email & Google, I can’t get at all, others are very slow. No probs with DTWOF so far, though. Anyone else having problems? Thanx.

  95. Timmytee, yeah, there was an extended cyber attack that affected a wide range of sites but appeared to be primarily directed against the governments of South Korea and the U.S. Or so they say. And yes, suspicion is being aimed at North Korea. Here’s one story about it.

    However, bear in mind:
    (a) Our government has a recent and currently continued history of saber rattling instead of foreign policy, so anything taken by our side against NK or Iran must be examined as rhetoric instead of, you know, FACTS. and
    (b) In particular, Obama is gladhandedly continuing the illegal spying and stripping of prior civil rights begun under Bush. Net neutrality and freedom of access are big issues right now. He talks a good line, but he’s not delivering in other areas, so maybe this is all a big scare to make us accept some heavy-handed cyber-patrol coming down the pike.

    Like Mulder said: Trust No One.

  96. Timmytee says:

    Makes sense to me, Maggie. Thanx & best wishes.

  97. Ellen O. says:

    Has anyone read this one yet?

    Faderman, Lillian & Timmons, Stuart.
    GAY L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. California. $19.95, paper.

  98. I’m English, and hail from an isolated and rural part of coastal East Yorkshire in the North of England that has scarcely changed since 1955. I am always amazed at its timeslip qualities every time I go back there for a visit.

    I was born in 1946 and well remember the post-war period of rationing, clothes coupons, power cuts and lack of petrol. We kids all went mad when sweets finally came off the ration in 1954 and we could buy whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it – provided we saved our pocket money of course.

    It was undoubtedly a grim time. We had won the war and beaten the Nazis but the hostilities had almost destroyed us as well, physically, financially and emotionally. A lot of men couldn’t fit back into family life and marital breakdowns and abandonment of children was commonplace. The cities were battered and many contained bombed out sites until well into the 1960s.
    And food was really scarce. There were no obese kids in those days, I can tell you that. We were all whippet-thin.

    Atlee’s post-war Labour government was voted into office in a landslide victory, following the so-called “khaki election” of 1945 when the men and women of the armed forces, sick to death of war and privation booted the arch-Tory, aristocratic Winston Churchill into touch and voted for a form of pragmatic British socialism.

    There’s not much left from that time of hope but we still maintain our National Heath Service that came into being during the course of the narrative of “The Little Stranger” and which, in the novel, Dr. Faraday, is so scared of seeing arrive despite the fact that he himself is a working class man “made good”.

    The Atlee administration battled against huge difficulties to reconstruct the country, build houses, provide fuel and food but the British people were effectively punished for expressing their democratic will by a vindictive US government, our great ally, that diverted the financial aid we had just begun to receive to what was, by then, West Germany.

    The UK government was even forced to introduce bread rationing – something that didn’t happen even during the darkest days of the war whilst West Germany became the home of the “economic miracle” that saw the country become the richest in Europe within a decade or so of the cessation of hostilities.

    However, as a child growing up in the country I and my schoolfriends had a great time. There were almost no cars, there was almost no crime, health care was completely free, there was a degree of equality, we were happy.

    We also had little treats such as the ice lollies (all of a purple/brown hue regardless of their flavour) that were made with local British fruit such as blackberries, plums, damsons, apples and strawberries. They were really tasty, came in wrapped in greaseproof paper (no fancy packaging then) and were cheap (a penny each).

    One of the first signs we saw of changing times was when “ice cream wafers” first appeared. This ersatz confection came from Neilson’s in Canada and was a real shock. It was greasy, oversweet and tasted foul – it had a strange fishy tang and we hated it but our beloved water ices soon disappeared and we had to learn to like imports. We have to do the same to this very day.

    There were several large houses around the area, very similar to Hundreds Hall as described in the book and many fell into disrepair in the post-war period. I roamed around in several of these abandoned anachronisms myself during the fifties and sixties. Many of them were later razed to the ground and cheap housing constructed where they had once they had stood.

    What I particularly liked about the novel is the splendid evocation of the times, the social mores, the petty difficulties of daily life and the use of English that is pertinent to the time. It is almost entirely spot-on and gives the book great strength. That is what it was like.

    As for the ghost? I take it to be Faraday in one manifestation or another. He lusted after the house and despoiied it when he was only 10 when he prised the plaster acorn out of the wall. This is a sign of things to come.

    When he couldn’t have what he so wanted he, or a manifestation of his dark side, killed Caroline because he couldn’t have her and therefore couldn’t get the house.

    I take Caroline’s cry of “You!” as she sees whatever it is to be prima facie evidence that it was Faraday, the man she had thrown out of the hall and refused ever to see again. And why did he park up at the pond in the woods close to hundreds on the night before she died? So that he could get at her, of course.

    An excellent book read over two days of a long weekend in Italy.
    The best by Waters yet.

  99. grrljock says:


    Thank you for your informed and interesting comment, and for providing context on tLS. I especially like what you wrote about the ice lollies. Why do you think they disappeared after the introduction of imported, but clearly inferior, manufactured ice wafers?

    I agree with you on the ‘splendid evocation of the times’, which is one of SW’s strengths. Personally, I find Faraday’s anxiety about the upcoming National Health Service particularly interesting because of my line of work, and because of the resonance with the current discussions on healthcare in the US.

    So then. Do y’all think that American readers may be too far removed to really get the societal turbulence as depicted in tLS (no rigid class system, no physical WWII attacks on continental US), or is this just a function of the writing? In other words, are American readers missing the frame of reference, or could SW have done better in writing the story?

  100. Diamond says:

    I suppose we in the UK are far more used to US literature, films and so on than the other way round. We’ve absorbed the language and the historical background from quite a young age, whereas you maybe have more of a feeling of moving in slightly foreign territory when you read British fiction?

    I once saw Sarah Waters speak at a lesbian literature festival about the enormous amount of research she has to do to achieve the authenticity that Martyn rightly points out. She’s quite a lot younger than either Martyn or I, and the periods covered by The Little Stranger and The Night Watch will probably seem extremely distant and purely historic to her.

    She owned up to having introduced many endearing anachronisms in the early drafts of The Night Watch – characters being able to mop up spilt water with toilet paper for example, and switch on bathroom lights by pulling little strings . . . Much laughter from the many crones in the audience and probably from Martyn now.

  101. […] Bechdel and her pal Queer Theory Professor discuss Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, an excellent ghost […]

  102. moonrat says:

    yup, loved this one. she’s so great, though. haven’t read anything i haven’t loved.

  103. […] Alison Bechdel, author of one of my fave graphic novels Fun Home, discusses Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. […]

  104. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Aha! I just got a copy of Night Watch! More Sarah Waters fodder. Who knows? This post might still be up after I finish it and we can start talking about the other book!

  105. Timmytee says:

    @ 98 Martyn: Ive read everything here, because I read most everything on this blog, but doubted that I’d actually go out of my way to find “The Little Stranger”, until I came to your comment. The “Splendid evocation of the times” is indeed your few paragraphs here (are you a writer yourself?), and I really hope I can find the book now. Thank you. Best wishes to all from northwest Pennsylvania, USA.

  106. Andrew B says:

    Grrljock, thanks for the link. I’ve been meaning to comment on it and I keep not getting around to it. In the interview, Waters talks about the changes in Britain’s class structure following WWII:

    “middle-class people seemed to be in absolute agony about it – and the more conservative they were, of course, the worse the agony was. It was that agony, really, that attracted me: it was so extreme, it had an irrational, an hysterical – almost a supernatural – intensity to it, and I ended up thinking that the only way really to do justice to it might be with a full-blown haunted-house novel.”

    The thing that’s striking about this is that Waters didn’t write that novel. As Martyn says, Faraday ‘is a working class man “made good”.’ He constantly identifies himself in terms of his origins. He resents what he takes to be condescension or insults directed at him as working class.

    Faraday is himself a minor challenge to the class system. There is no way you can understand him as a conservative who is terrified by the idea of change per se. His opposition to change needs explaining. It’s what makes his opposition to the National Health so bizarre. He is so filled with self-hatred that he can’t even tell when his side is winning. He wants to climb aboard the Titanic after it has hit the iceberg.

    The comfortably middle class characters in the book — Faraday’s colleagues — are contented and unruffled. TLS isn’t a book about the conservative middle class that can’t face the thought of change. It’s about self-hatred in a working class striver who is constantly trying to hide his origins — who hates the old class system because it degrades him, but hangs onto it because he has no other way to understand who he is. This is why I thought perhaps the closet would be a good metaphor for Faraday’s attitude toward class.

    Waters also refers to “the poor old Ayres family being terrorised by forces they can’t understand”. The thing is, they do understand what is happening to them and their class (with the possible exception of Roddy). Mrs Ayres understands it clearly enough to try to prostitute her daughter. Caroline understands, too. Her desire to leave the UK isn’t evidence of a suicidally irrational desire to flee — it reflects her understanding that her class no longer has a place in Britain. It’s Faraday who is terrorized by forces he can’t understand: primarily self-hatred and an inability to understand himself except in terms of a system that degrades him. Those forces were generated by the old class system, not by its post-WWII breakdown.

    Duncan, responding to an even older comment, I agree that the book is tautly written. When I called it “slack”, I was referring to the story and the character development.

  107. Alex K says:

    THE LITTLE STRANGER and BRÜNO. Let’s see if AB’s professor friend wants to try her hand at a compare-and-contrast with these two manifestations of, erm, queer culture…

    For myself: BRÜNO is no BORAT. Is he “the white Obama”, as the movie claims?

    Well, that’s a tough one. Maybe for an answer we need a focus group.

  108. --MC says:

    Remember that Maoist Orange Cake exchange we had here a long while back?
    I contributed to it, and was taking my cues from a libretto for a Chinese revolutionary opera, “Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy” that I had. (Yes, Brian Eno took the name from the opera for his second album.)
    Yesterday I was in the International District (Seattle’s “Chinatown”) and found a VCD of the film of the opera. Now I know what the songs from the opera sound like, including the hit single “Let’s Wipe Out The Reactionaries”.

  109. The Michael Jackson hagiography continues unabated, and I’m reduced to cooking shows only. What I’d give for a hit single in THIS country with the presumed content of “Let’s Wipe Out The Reactionaries!”

    For those with a love of both science and freedom (i.e., progressives), the Pew Research Center For The People And The Press came out with a new report yesterday which makes for fascinating reading. Here’s a few morsels:

    (1) “A substantial percentage of scientists also say that the news media have done a poor job educating the public. About three-quarters (76%) say a major problem for science is that news reports fail to distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not. And 48% say media oversimplification of scientific findings is a major problem.” No kidding. Comprehension of how to read data and what constitutes a genuine scientific method is at a low compared to other periods in my own lifetime.

    (2) “Scientists also are more critical of business; they are roughly half as likely as the public to say that “business corporations generally strike a fair balance between making profits and serving the public interest” (20% of scientists vs. 37% of public).” Given that many scientists can only find employment in corporate-run endeavors, this cynicism is probably accurate.

    (3) In the accompanying Partisan and Idealogical Differences table, just 8 percent of scientists identify themselves as Republicans, compared to 23 percent of the overall population. Reality-based community, hello?

    (4) 87% of scientists state that evolution is the result of natural processes, but only 32 percent public agreement (Republicans plus their infected social circle, no doubt).

    And, there is a 12-item general science knowledge quiz which was administered to the public. Since two URLs will send this comment to the cornfield, I’ll make a postscript below for all us inveterate quiz takers.

  110. My cat Dinah has decided the mouse pad is the only place in the house where she can get a mid-afternoon nap. I’m doing my best to work around her obstinate bulk.

    Here’s the link to the general science quiz mentioned above. I found it depressingly easily — depressing because only 10% of the population got all 12 questions right like I did. I mean, watching PBS alone, if I’d never read a single book, would have enabled me to answer the questions.

  111. Ian says:

    @Maggie Jochild #110: I think I did get all of those right because I watch the British equivalents of PBS! 😉

  112. khatgrrl says:

    I just took the science quiz and I too found it depressingly easy. I expected more difficult questions.

  113. Pedantic, Moy? says:

    1] This is getting pretty far off-topic and 2] I apologize for getting nit-picky here, but this is rubbing up against one of my hot-buttons.


    This quiz shares many of the problems of this kind of pop-science quiz. First there is the minor point that I’m sure I would consider all of these questions “science”; but more to the point some of the “expected” answers –that is, the ones that are scored as correct are arguably not right.

    The most obvious example is the question regarding whether the continents have been moving for “millions of years”. The expected answer is “true”, of course, but the answerer might have reasoned –perfectly accurately– that the correct answer is “false”, because this motion has, in fact, been going on for billions of years.

    (This is not a minor quibble; this is off by a factor of 1000. If I asked you “True or False: Barack Obama has been president for several hours?” A strictly literal reading might say that this is True, but I suspect most folks would have second thoughts about this.)

    Likewise, another T/F question asks if “An Electron is smaller than an atom?” Again, the expected answer it True. But this is not a well-defined question. There are perfectly valid ways of reasoning about this that could lead an answerer to say “False”.

    A few years ago there was a somewhat famous book by E. D. Hirsch called “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy” which was chock full of this kind of partially-correct information. That is, the answers that you are “supposed” to give, as to opposed to the answers that are actually correct.

    I think what really cooks my bacon about this sort of thing is that it reduces science, and other technical disciplines, to the simple, rote memorization of facts. Whereas what we should learning to do is to reason and apply knowledge.

    [Whew… I’m done. thanks]

  114. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Andrew B (#106), thanks for a thoroughly well reasoned remark on TLS. Bless you for staying on topic! AND thanks for a disquisition on the class question. I understand that Night Watch also works with the late 1940’s as a mise en scene, and I look forward, as I say, to reading it and trying to drag the conversation in this post back to Sarah Waters. Has anybody else read Night Watch?

  115. Pam I says:

    On TLS (that’s the Times Literary Supplement over here. I keep mis-reading) – as one who is struggling with twelve square feet being my total allocation of friable soil – neighbours’ toys having taken over my shared garden – I just got irritated at the Ayres’ for owning what sounds like half of Shropshire and not being able to make it pay.

  116. shadocat says:

    Ha! “To the cornfield”—I just got that, Maggie (said the lurker who has only barely begun “The Little Stranger.”

  117. Duncan says:

    Two more quasi-hijacks that I think are relevant here, though first I want to say that I still disagree that TLS is “slack” in any way, be it writing, story, or character development. The only problem I have with it is that the characters are so unlikeable, by and large, that I don’t have any wish to reread the book and spend more time in their virtual company. I also liked Andrew’s remark that Waters had not written the book she thought she had; his arguments seem on-target to me.

    But I wanted to mention two other books I’ve read recently that share a sense of period with TLS. The first is “Saplings” by Noel Streatfeild (I’m pretty sure I have her surname spelled right; it isn’t easy), originally published in 1945 but recently reissued, about a family that suffers through the evacuation of children from English cities to the countryside during WWII. It has no GLBTQ content, but is worth reading for Streatfeild’s excellent practical feeling for children’s psychology. (Apparently, however, Streatfeild was a repressed/closeted lesbian.)

    The second book, published last year in England, is “Days of Grace” by Catherine Hall, also about the WWII evacuations. This one is told from the point of view of a young girl who was evacuated and found a home with a clergyman’s family, who had a daughter named (you guessed it) Grace the same age as the narrator. The narrator falls in love with Grace. It’s not an upbeat novel, but very well written. It’s funny that I’d have stumbled on two WWII novels in fairly rapid succession, both quite interesting. And now I’m thinking of rereading “On the Side of the Angels” by Betty Miller, originally published 1945 and reissued by Virago in 1986, which is also about the evacuations. Also no GLBTQ content but I read it a few years ago and recall liking it a great deal. So, if anyone is interested in looking at that period, there are some possibilities.

  118. Hey, Duncan, I clicked on your name and went to your website again. I VERY MUCH enjoyed your post titled “Dancing Queen” –I’d leave a comment there but could not. I especially liked the clip of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, which I honestly don’t believe I’ve seen before, in all my years of watching old Hollywood musicals. I’ve had an enduring crush on Gene Kelly (what thighs). I thought your analysis of what was going on in the dance scene was very gay-on-the-money and it certainly added to my enjoyment of the clip.

  119. Ian says:

    @Duncan #117: I’m going to second Maggie’s comments on the “Dancing Queen” post. I’d not seen that clip before either. I’m a Gene Kelly fan too, and have always preferred his superior placement, line and muscular physicality to (somewhat ironically) Astaire’s rather fey, floating across the floor. I loved the queer take on the clip. Sometimes I wonder if we read too much into clips, desperate for a reflection on our own lives, but in this case I think you’re right on target!

    There’ve been some comments above about English cultural/linguistic idioms in TLS, and to reverse this, I was wondering what a “Babbitt” could be? Obviously I know what a bromide is, but I wondered if there was a cultural reference I’m missing? Actually I couldn’t stop thinking about John Wayne Bobbitt!

  120. Dr. Empirical says:

    “Babbitt” is a reference to the novel by Sinclair Lewis, the title character of which was a shallow, self-important middle-management type who spoke in bromides and thought not at all.

    Written in 1922 (I had to look that up), Babbitt was the first popular treatment of such a character, now an established archtype.

  121. Sheri says:

    I’m fascinated by the concept of the unreliable narrator. One great example which I don’t think has been mentioned here is “When We Were Orphans” by Kazuo Ishiguro.

    I’m not sure how reliable or otherwise Dr Faraday (am I right in thinking his first name is never revealed, in true “second Mrs de Winter” fashion?). But having just finished the book, my immediate reaction was that he was responsible – either in person, or in some supernatural way – at least for Caroline’s death, if not the rest… at the inquest, he has something like a vision of what happened, and says “Just for a moment… I seemed to catch the outline of some shadowy, dreadful thing”. The knowledge of his own guilt?

    And of course the last sentence can be seen as a huge giveaway.

  122. Ian says:

    Thanks Dr E! Info much appreciated. Sadly, these characters are based on a grim reality, some of whom I’ve had the misfortune to work for …

  123. Pam I says:

    When I was about 13 and working my way along the fiction shelves of the North Baddesley parish library, I picked up Babbitt thinking it was The Hobbit, which my pals were reading. I think I realised pretty fast that there was a difference. I still remember it, vaguely, at least that he was a realtor, which I had to look up for english translation.

  124. Pam I says:

    @ Sheri, etc – OK how many literay refs can we spot in TLS?
    Jane Eyre
    Great Expectations
    Lotsa other Dickens
    Dr Jekyll + Mr H
    …. next….

  125. Sheri says:

    Pam I –

    The Franchise Affair, obviously…. although I thought the similarities were fewer than might have been expected from SW’s Guardian article.


    – the male narrator who becomes involved in the family’s problems (a country doctor in TLS, a country solicitor in TFA) and develops a relationship with the daughter

    – the presence of a young girl called Betty

    – a country-house dwelling mother and daughter (Caroline has some similarities to Marion Sharpe in TFA)

    – and of course that whole post-war decline of the gentry, “there’s no place for us here any more”, changing social structure type of milieu, which is made very explicit (and clearly seen as a Bad Thing) in Tey’s novel. The Sharpes end up emigrating (to Canada, possibly, I can’t quite recall) as Caroline also plans to do.

    Hmm, maybe more similarities than I thought! Although they are also very different books.

  126. Sheri says:

    And yes, The Yellow Wallpaper, very clearly – right down to a nod to the wallpaper itself.

  127. Dr. Empirical says:

    Pam I: Thank you, I’d forgotten that Babbitt was a realtor. He worked for his Father in law. Babbitt can thus be viewed as a study of what happens when a Horatio Alger hero grows up!

    So in British, a realtor would be an estate agent?

  128. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Dr. E (#127)

    The generic American English term for one who facilitates the purchase and sale of real estate (land, buildings, co-ops, condos) is ‘real estate agent’ or ‘real estate salesperson’ (there are different legal ramifications and licensure requirements for each title, which vary by state).

    A Realtor (the first letter should be capitalized) is a trademarked term for a member of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, or one of its local groups.

    A Realtor is a real estate agent or salesperson, but not necessarily the other way around.

  129. Pam I says:

    @ Dr E, yes in the UK they are called estate agents, without any differentiated labelling between grades. They are up there with journalists and politicians as the most hated and/or least trusted profession.

    My stepson is one, so I have to disagree.

  130. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Pam I (#129)

    Do used car salespeople rank near the top of UK slimebuckets? In the US, purveyors of used cars are generally considered the vilest and least trustworthy human specimens (and perhaps some are considered subhuman). Next on the least trustworthy list would be new car salespeople.

    I recall a famous poster from the 1960s with a picture of Richard Nixon on it. The text read, “Would you buy a used car from this man?”

  131. Dr. Empirical says:

    Toad-sexers. You can’t trust those bastards for love or money. If it’s a male and there’s a penny in it for them to say it’s female, they’ll lie to your face with a smile. If they’re found out it’s all “They can change! Haven’t you seen Jurassic Park?”


  132. Andrew B says:

    131: Dr E, that went over my head. I’m guessing toads actually can change sex, so that being a toad sexer would be the ultimate unaccountable job? Was that the joke?

    127 & 128: And fwiw, everywhere I have lived in the (northeastern) USA “realtor” has been in common usage as a shorter term for a real estate agent. Linguistic usage and the legal enforceability of trademarks are two different issues. Let’s not give the Big Brothers, oops, I mean intellectual property attorneys, any more than they can force out of us.

  133. Pam I says:

    @ Dr E, you have given me a new ambition for a change of career. Sounds like my kind of job.

  134. Ian says:

    @Pam I: Well, if you fancy looking at toads’ bums from 9-5 … 😉

  135. Virginia Burton says:

    I’m new to Sarah Waters and am reading “Tipping the Velvet.” Can someone explain what sexual practice is a “Robert Browning?” As in: “‘A sovereign, for a suck or for a Robert’–he meant, of course, a Robert Browning.”

    I tried Google and haven’t come up with anything.

  136. Dr. Empirical says:

    You’re looking for depth, Andrew, in a joke that has none!

  137. Duncan says:

    Virginia — probably a “Robert Browning” means anal penetration or anilingus; my guess is the former. The “Robert” is a small joke; I can’t think of analogous terms, but maybe other people can.

    I’m glad people enjoyed my “Dancing Queens” blog post. I first saw the Kelly-Estaire clip in a video by Mark Rappoport called “The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender.” (The same guy also compiled “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies” and “From the Journals of Jean Seberg.”) I wanted to include it in the post, though I didn’t know what movie it had come from, and by good luck stumbled on the clip you saw. I wasn’t entirely serious in my description — I wanted to deliberately and ironically read too much into it. But it’s true, it’s fun to read that scene as a pickup. I’m hoping to work on another more serious post about glb or queer readings of art/entertainment/media later on.

  138. Aunt Soozie says:

    Duncan, loved that post… the guys dancing together on network tv?? hard to believe that happened. they seemed to be getting a hoot out of it as well… as in, can you even believe we’re waltzing together on network tv? I’ve always wanted to learn to waltz like that… so fluid and graceful and beautiful. though you’re right re: romance, they were so far apart I could have danced in between the two of them. (an aunt soozie sandwich… aunt soozie on… I don’t know… what would you call that kinda bread?)

    re: fred and gene… did you notice how they had to be aggressive after they danced in one another’s arms? (reasserting their manliness no doubt…)

    anyway, thanks Duncan!

  139. Feminista says:

    Good one,Maggie! Please to put some tofutti “cream cheese” and ground burdock root on the sandwich.

    Aunt Soozie,I checked out your fine,fascinating photos and misc.commentary. You should do standup. No joke.

    I leaped over here to see what rational discourse is engaging our other friendly fo’ folks. Fo’real. (((groan)))

    I’m currently reading Three Cups of Tea,a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novelita,and Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer before you’re Dead: Your Words in Print and your Name in Lights. A new issue of Funny Times just arrived,which may temporarily trump the above.

    Ariel Gore moved from the SF Bay Area to Portland several years ago,bringing her cutting edge zine Hip Mama with her. Similarly,Bitch Magazine (“cheerfully attitudinous (sic)feminism” for 3rd wavers & a few cool Boomers) left skyrocketing SF rents for groovy,cheaper edgy digs in NE Portland (AKA NoPo).

  140. Metaphysical says:

    WHERE is Alison? Has she gone on vacation? Has she fallen off a cliff? What?

  141. Andrew B says:

    Metaphysical, 141, when Alison took her “sabbatical” from the strip she mentioned a fall 2009 deadline for her next book. I suspect that’s at least a large part of why she hasn’t shown up on the blog since the end of last month. If so, good for her.

    Post where she said this:

  142. Ellen O. says:

    Like others here, I was most taken by the ghost as metaphor of the changing post-war class system in Britain. I think there would have been greater tension if Caroline had escaped, with one family member dead, one in an asylum, and one exiled.

    Or maybe Caroline’s death was necessary to raise the question of Dr Faraday’s possible guilt.

    Does Faraday have a first name?

  143. ThE LaTeNt Lens says:

    Yeah….Im desperately visiting all of my fav spots and this spot is still on the same thread….. I sure all is ok over there in Vermont.

  144. Sheri says:

    Ellen O – I think his first name is “Doctor”…

  145. Ellen O. says:

    Sheri – #145 You betcha!

    So does the Doctor represent the nameless horde of middle class usurping the upper class? By prying off an acorn, which symbolizes potential and new growth, is he capturing the next generation? Or is the rejection by Caroline his punishment for trying to destroy or grab a part of what is not his to take?


  146. boredtotears says:

    @Duncan: I think you’re right. And the joke is the “Browning” part–get it?

  147. M-H says:

    Martyn @ 98 thanks so much for this evocative posting.

  148. joanne says:

    It seems to me that the book has a perfectly rational explanation, caroline sees off her brother and then her Mother to get her freedom. She was going to have Faraday remove her Mother from the Hall ( and take away her last burden) and led Faraday down that path but then balked at her Mother being committed because of the shame. She hangs her tranquilized Mother which is why the key is in the garden. She is just about to get away with it and take flight when Faraday lets himself in with his key and pushes her over the balcony. He says as he is in the clearing ” I feel myself a stranger”. I think SW did not want to appear trite with an obvious solution that wrapped everything up. I think she was a bit too obscure and people didn’t get it. Caroline was a closeted lesbian who had considered escaping the hall by marrying Faraday and when he made it clear he wanted to stay she had to think again. The last line shows that he is the only ghost there. I don’t think SW has an interest in the real supernatural but she does in peoples delusion and cynicism. I think that with a more clearly spelled out ending the chilling twist was as good as in affinity which made me go cold all over when I read the last page.

  149. grrljock says:

    The Little Stranger is on the long list for the 2009 Man Booker Prize:

  150. jana says:

    @49…I think you’re really on to something here. The hauntings do manifest themselves in ways that cause their objects the most distress. For Mrs Ayres it is her daughter and the thought of her death in the house. For Rod it is fire, which would remind him of his accident during the war. And he has burn scars in his face, doesn’t he? Is that why the mirror in his room “jumped” at him the night of the party? And perhaps the same thing happened to Gyp, explaining his sudden aggression. Along those lines, I could see how the ghost would show itself as Dr Faraday to Caroline.

    What bothered me quite a bit was the fact that Betty didn’t leave. She seemed to easily scared at the beginning; it seems out of character that she would stay until the bitter end.

    I do think something supernatural was going on. How else to explain things like the scribbles (btw: “Sucky?!” What was that about?) and the mirror?

  151. goldfish says:

    “Sucky” is a misspelling of “Sukey,” a nickname for Susan — Mrs. Ayres’ lost daughter.

  152. affinity says:

    But what if the narrator IS “radically untrustworthy”? Could he be the real Little Stranger who’s had a grudge and fascination with Hundreds Hall since that first childhood visit, wanting to take his share from the over-privileged, but also become part of their private sealed world? His whole narration could then be a carefully reshaped fantasy version of events filled with convenient elipses and lies, to cover over the traces of his dogged “haunting” of the family? Rather being doctor/helper, he’s secretly unsettler/destroyer? Only problem being, it doesn’t end the way he’d hoped, with him becoming Lord of the Manor, so he disposes of his ex-fiancee… I can’t get this interpretation out of my mind, as it makes the most sense to me in terms of Waters’ fiendishly clever plot devices. Maybe she’s hidden the twist more deeply this time around, to make even more mischief?

  153. affinity says:

    PS – I didn’t read all the postings above before I wrote mine. Sorry if I seemed to be ignoring others’ similar comments! Definitely a novel that’s more interesting in retrospect than during the reading for me. Thanks to everyone here for making it even more fascinating…

  154. Andrew O. says:

    Unfortunately I couldn’t read TLS while this was going on (although I found it on the new books shelf at the library someone had a hold on it, so my reading was delayed). It’s beautifully written. The doctor’s obsession with the house certainly caused SOME kind of problem (and how on earth did he think was going to restore the estate, and why did he care?). But I found resonances of “Beloved,” and assumed the poltergeist was the dead child. Certainly interesting to think it appeared in different guises for each poor member of the family. Can’t ghosts do that? We are able to “accept” ghost stories that take place in Victorian times as being somehow “real;” maybe the postwar period is now far enough back for the same effect.

  155. Susan says:

    The little stranger is inside us all–our subconscious mind, doing its mischief. See the Coleridge poem “Frost at Midnight,” which Caroline quotes from on page 357 . . . A clue?