The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters

I got The Little Stranger for my birthday!  And read it on the plane back home yesterday.  Not a good plane book; I should have read Changing Planes, which would have been much better, but by the time I thought of it, it was the last leg of the flight and I was trying to catch fifteen minutes of sleep so I wouldn’t die of exhaustion.  The Little Stranger would be a perfect dark-and-stormy-night type of book.  (Not that there’s any book I wouldn’t want to read at night all cozy with a thunderstorm outside – but some are more suited to it than others.)

The Little Stranger is about a Dr. Faraday who goes round to minister to a servant girl called Betty at The Hundreds, an old aristo house now peopled by its three remaining family members, Mrs. Ayres and her grown son and daughter Roderick and Caroline.  The Hundreds is coming down around them, and they are all doing their best to keep it up and running.  Dr. Faraday becomes more and more involved in their lives, while around them the house is delicately, gradually, driving them all mad.

You can see the influence of The Haunting of Hill House on this book, although it’s quite dissimilar to that.  I was mildly disappointed in the house’s tricks.  I felt like they didn’t always give you that spine prickle, particularly as the book was being narrated by a man who never saw any of these antics, but only heard about them afterwards.  However, the rest of the book, the characters and the things they all did, more than made up for it.  As is always the case in Sarah Waters’s books, the interactions between the characters are the best part of the book.  These are fully realized characters: you always want to see more of them, and the things they do are the things they would do (does that work, as a description?  I mean that even when they’re doing or saying unsympathetic or unexpected things, they continue to be who they always were).

This is a very British book – actually, I think, the most British of Sarah Waters’s books so far, the first book that it would really, really have surprised me to learn an American had written it.  I read a thing about British and American humor one time, how Americans like for their comedy shows to move from disorder to order, whereas British comedy shows tend to be of the sort where everything just goes spectacularly to hell (Fawlty Towers is a perfect example of this).  The Little Stranger is all about decay and breaking down – the house itself and its dying protests, the traditions of and belief in the aristocracy in Britain, the relationships of the family to each other and Dr. Faraday, and so forth.  Everything breaks down.  It’s sad, and Sarah Waters imbues the book with a sense of the inevitability of it all.

The servant Betty provides an epitaph to the whole thing when she says “It wasn’t fair, was it, what happened to them?”  I loved this.  It wasn’t fair.  They didn’t deserve it.  They didn’t deserve the poltergeist, and they didn’t deserve to be the ones on whom the burden of holding up the British aristocracy fell.

And what a gorgeous last sentence it has!

And as soon as I closed it, I started to whine inside my head about when is she going to write her next book, I really want to read her next book.  But you know, she just wrote one, so it’ll probably be a few years yet before her next one after this shows up.  Here are other views:

S. Krishna’s Books
A Bookworm’s World
Farm Lane Books
Back to Books
A Garden Carried in the Pocket

Tell me if I missed yours!

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

I have mixed feeling about this book.  I really do.  Because on one hand, I enjoyed it a lot and I liked all the twists and turns it took.  Except that um, when part one ended, it wasn’t quite what I expected, because I’m a big romantic, and although I (of course) had already read the end, it didn’t so much let me in on all the stuff that was going to happen in the middle.  And I was all going along, dee dee dee, and all of a sudden it was part one ending and WHAM KIDNEY PUNCH.  Seriously, that’s the way you people like to read books?

I don’t get it.  Why would you want that?  So that when they repeat the serpent’s tooth line later, you feel a joyous twinge of recognition about what happened earlier on?  I had that joyous twinge of recognition, and first I thought, oh, hey, this must be why people don’t look up what’s going to happen, but then I remembered that it was far outweighed by the unpleasant surprising thing that happened earlier.  And, y’know, if you knew what was coming, you’d have appreciated that line the first time around, and still appreciated it when it was reiterated.  Just saying.

Ugh.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen.  Unless it’s an emotional moment.  I don’t like finding out what emotional moments are going to happen – like, if I were reading the Harry Potter books for the first time, I wouldn’t at all mind being told that Lupin is going to (spoiler) die ultimately, but I would be very very furious with someone who told me, I don’t know, the story of how Lupin and Harry have that argument they have in the seventh book.  Likewise, I want to know that Wesley’s going to (spoiler) die at the end of Angel (HA!  SERVE YOU RIGHT!), but I don’t in any way want to know whatever touching moment Social Sister was going to tell me about but I stopped her because I don’t want to know these things.

Well, and that’s why I got cross with Fingersmith.  I felt like it cheated me.  I read the entire emotional end of the story, got cross because I was still angry with Sue for being such a lying bitch, and never saw anything coming that was coming.  Besides which, I couldn’t really get behind a romance that occurs between two such unpleasant characters.  I know I know, necessity and oppression and Victorian girls had no choices, but I don’t care!  They were just too unpleasant!  I was interested in what was going to happen but I was not in any way invested in their romance.

I sort of was.

But mostly not.  Because of how unpleasant they both were.

I liked Fingersmith a lot.  Like Sarah Waters’ other books – I wouldn’t buy them but I am happy to know the library has them, and if I reread them enough times I may well grow to love them deeply and purchase them all for my personal library.  Except Tipping the Velvet which has been my least favorite so far.  And I care enough to read Affinity (spiritualism! woooooooo!) and check Amazon to see if she has any new books coming out.  And enough to give her a favored authors tag.  Sarah Waters writes well and tells me lots of interesting things about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England; and I am all about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England.

Now I’m all interested in Victorian erotica.  How totally interesting.  If I were going into academia, I would be studying Victorian erotica.

…That might be hard to get a job in.  English 4069: Victorians ❤ Porn.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters

I liked Night Watch enough that I got all of Sarah Waters’s other books out of the library in the hopes that I would be getting a grand new favorite author.  Tipping the Velvet was evidently her first, and I didn’t like it as much as Night Watch, sadly, but I still totally enjoyed it.  So much I stayed up until three last night finishing it even though I have a paper to write today.  I’m doing that straightaway after I write this.

Lots of interesting Victorian underworld in this book.  I spent a lot of this book trying to work out what all that mad Victorian slang was about, which was jolly.  Though I did get fed up with Nancy when she was window-shopping at the tobacconist and the dude came up and talked to her and she was dressed as a boy and she like totally talked back.  I was in my room going “Well that’s just GREAT, Nan, you WINDOW-SHOPPING HUSSY.  Hope you’re enjoying offering that UNEQUIVOCAL SEX INVITE with all that crazed WINDOW-SHOPPING TALKING you are doing.  He is OBVIOUSLY trying to pick you up and that might be okay if you weren’t a GIRL, you humongous MORON.”  Not really fair to get so cross about it.  She didn’t know.

I got seriously worked up about Nancy’s behavior and what I wanted to happen.  Like Florence?  I was against Florence from the beginning.  Why’s everyone always ending up with snotty righteous uninteresting people?  It was like that time Dorothea married Casaubon, only more ugh and no dashing young Will for her to hook up with later.  What if Jane Eyre had married St. John?  Ugh.  About forty pages into the book I went and read the end, and there was this random-ass Florence character I’d never met, so I took against from the beginning, and when she finally showed up I was like PFFT, Florence, I hate that bitch.  So it was good really that she was such an aggravatingly virtuous character and I didn’t have to reconsider my early unfriendly assessment of her.

Well, that’s neither here nor there.  Sarah Waters is a good writer.  Tipping the Velvet was good.  We’ll see, won’t we, whether my fondness for her survives reading her other two books.  I’m saving Affinity for last because it’s about spiritualism.  I like spiritualism.  Hester Whatsherface received a whole play all from Oscar Wilde.

Night Watch, Sarah Waters

Recommended by: A Life in Books, sort of, in that she said she loved anything by Sarah Waters and I randomly grabbed Night Watch when I went to the library.

I don’t know if it’s just because I love Britain in World War II or what, but I really, really loved Night Watch.  It was swell.  I so much didn’t want it to end that I put it down and left it alone for ages before returning to it today and finishing it all up in one gobble.

Basically it’s about four (Kay, Viv, Helen, Duncan – yes, four) people in London during and after World War II.  I am really shocking rubbish at plot synopses, but there’s not a lot more to say on this one.  It’s all about them, and it goes in three sections: one in 1947, one in 1944, and one in 1941, in that order.  So you’re reading to find out how things came about, rather than to see where things are going.  In a way I really like this – I love those films or episodes of TV shows where you see people carrying on doing things, where you see things that are clearly significant but you don’t know why, and then they flash back to a previous thing and you find out why it was so significant.

Which is why I loved this book to pieces all through the 1947 section and the 1944 section.  It was just the 1941 section that I thought fell off a little bit.  In a way, it felt really unnecessary – we find out how Kay and Helen met, how Viv and Reggie met, and what happened with Duncan and Alex.  And it was a bad finish to the book, I thought.  Not that I wasn’t interested to know all these things, but that it was a bad way to leave it, because we weren’t finding out anything that washed backward over the rest of the book and imbued it with new meaning, which I guess is what I was hoping for.  The 1944 section did this gorgeously to the 1947 section, but the 1941 stuff?  Neg.  I was sad and let down and depressed.

Oh, but I really liked the book anyway.  Okay, it didn’t end with a bang, but it was mighty interesting all the same.  And I love the Brits during World War II.  Finest hour, man.  Sarah Waters draws these interactions with such nuance.  I was in love with it.  Actually it reminded me a lot of The Charioteer, and I swear it’s not just because they’re both gay-themed WWII books; it’s the delicacy of the relationships and conversations.

Yay for Sarah Waters.  I checked out her other three books from the library, so I will let you know about those.  I was sad to find there were only three.  I know she’s only 42 and there’s no reason she should have dozens of books all written and if she did it might not suggest something flattering about the quality of her writing, but still, I liked Night Watch a lot and I wished there were lots more like it.  I’d like to give her a Favored Authors tag but it seems premature.