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The little stranger by Sarah Waters

Acclaimed author Sarah Waters has created an atmosphere of such intense disquiet and foreboding in her latest novel that it’s difficult not to emerge feeling spooked. (Virago, $38.99) The story takes place in Warwickshire just after World War II, during a period of major social transformation in Britain. Hundreds Hall, a once magnificent manor house, has fallen into a state of utter disrepair and its residents, the aristocratic Ayres family, who have inhabited the hall for generations, are now virtually penniless. Despite their dire change in circumstances, ors Ayres and her adult children, Caroline and Roderick, struggle on doggedly amidst the decay.

The novel opens with a flashback to the stately home’s heyday, when our narrator, Dr Faraday, visits the hall as a 10-year-old. The son of a servant and a shopkeeper, his first glimpse into a world of such incredible privilege becomes a defining moment in his young life. oany years later, having risen from his humble beginnings and taken up a career in medicine, Dr Faraday returns to Hundreds Hall in his professional capacity. A housemaid is feigning illness in an attempt to be dismissed from her post because, she tells the doctor, the house gives her the creeps.

Despite being initially appalled by the fate that has befallen the once-magnificent Hall, Dr Faraday is filled with nostalgia as he roams the darkened hallways and finds himself drawn to the Hall and its reclusive residents. Slowly, he ingratiates himself with all three members of the family as he returns on a regular basis to treat Roderick for the war wounds that continue to plague him. When things take a sinister turn at the historic pile, Dr Faraday becomes more deeply embroiled in the fate of the family. As a man of science, Faraday seeks rational explanations for the increasingly bizarre incidences, believing the family members to be suffering from delusions and hysteria.

But could there be some diabolical force present at Hundreds Hall and who is the little stranger of the title? This chilling ghost story is slow but suspenseful and full of intrigue. At nearly 500 pages it’s a hefty undertaking but it remains compelling to the bitter end.

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