“This is a weirder thing even than hysteria. It’s as if—well, as if something’s slowly sucking the life out of the family . . . The whole bloody business baffles me! There are things that have happened, over at Hundreds, that I can’t explain. It’s as if the house is in the grip of some sort of miasma. ” [11:359-360]
Sheer chance has it that Dr. Faraday answers a house call at Hundreds Hall, where he once attended Empire Day festivity as a boy about 30 years ago, and re-acquaints with the Ayres, an old family family that is defeated by history. Despite signs of decay around the house and an economizing lifestyle, the Ayres live in dignity within their limited means. Looming beneath the peace and quiet of Hundreds Hall is a charged creepiness that a new housemaid first addresses when the doctor is summoned to her sick bed. She has feigned illness to be rid of her duties at night.
But at night, I’m all on me own. There in’t a sound! I have horrible dreams . . . And it wouldn’t be so bad, but they make me go up and down that set of old back stairs. There’s so much corners, and you don’t know what’s round ‘em. I think I shall die of fright sometimes. [1:12]
“Slowly, bit by bit, through snippets of events that initially bear neither relation nor premonition to what is to follow, Waters has set up a mood such that something uncanny is at work. It seems a strange coincidence that Betty claims Hundreds has a diabolical thing in it should have found in Roderick’s delusion. The ex RAF is attached to the delusion that he produces a logical-seeming fear hat the evil force will rid of everyone in the house.
Because what he had to do now, he said, was watch. He had to watch every object, every corner and shadow in the room, had to keep his gaze moving restlessly from one surface to another. For he knew that the malevolent thing which he tried to hurt him before was still in there with him, waiting. [5:155]
Stress and tension elevate as inexplicably frightful incidents proliferate in both audible and visual forms. The unaccounted for rat-tat-tat thumping leads Caroline Ayres to discover some aged childish doodles on the wall behind a dresser. Abstract idea of some outlandish, diabolical being becomes concrete evidence as each inhabitant of the house falls prey to a mysterious force, hallucination, noises—anything but a ghost, as nobody mentions ghost, even though all the indications suggest otherwise. Nerves are on edge.
And it was only when that was done, she told me, that the queerness of the whole thing began to strike her. She had been unafraid before, but now the taps, the discovery of the marks, her mother’s response, the current silence: she thought it all through, and felt her courage begin to waiver. [9:291]
The Little Stranger is not a traditional horror story, whether the ravenous shadow-creature does exist on its own or spawns from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house. It is a psychological thriller that deals with social class as it witnesses a gentry family that, instead of advancing with time, retreats to decadence. It also ponders the dynamics of human relationships: of the complex ties between parent and children, of the bonds between siblings, and of human yearnings. Any comparison of this novel to Fingersmith is irrelevant, as they are in totally different sub-genre. The plot of Fingersmith is enriched and sustained by many twists; whereas the novel in question is highly atmospheric, building upon snippets of information that become significant later.
528 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]