The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters: an interesting but slightly unsatisfactory book. Waters creates a mysterious atmosphere and the period feel of the late nineteen-forties in a remote village in Warwickshire. The English class system remains pretty pervasive at the village and the Ayres’ family home, Hundreds Hall, despite changes in the outside world. Dr. Faraday, the narrator, begins his relationship to the Ayres family as a physician and becomes a family friend, although from time to time incidents and comments remind him that he does not really belong.
Faraday is not the most reliable of narrators. His support of the family is affected by his own beliefs and, although he faithfully narrates the mysterious events that occur at the house, they are always filtered through his medical perspective. So he describes the son Roderick’s deterioration in terms of mental illness. Of course, the reader sees that the occurrences can’t be fully explained away like that — but then, we are hearing what Farraday chooses to tell us and we don’t know how much of his bluff, old-fashioned doctor’s manner is genuine and how much is affected by his increasing relationship with the family and the house itself.
There is a muted, end-of-an-era feel as Mrs. Ayres clings to a disappearing way of life in a house that is deteriorating around her:
… after watching her for a moment, Caroline gently took the record from her hands, opened up the gramophone, and set it to play. The disc was old, and the gramophone needle badly wanted replacing; at first all they heard was the hiss and crackle of the shellac. Then, slightly chaotically, there came the boom of the orchestra. The singer’s voice seemed to struggle against it, until finally the soprano rose purely, ‘like some lovely, fragile creature,” Caroline told me later, “breaking free of thorns.”
It must have been an oddly poignant moment. The day was dark with rain again, and the saloon was quite dim. The fire and the purring heaters cast an almost romantic light, so that for a minute or two the room — for all that the paper was hanging from the walls and its ceiling bulging — seemed alive with glamour.
Sarah Water is the author of four other novels, including the very clever Fingersmith, set in Victorian England.
Martha Wainwright in concert at the Rio, an intimate east-side theatre. Her emotions are raw and her natural personality comes across, easily bridging the gap between the stage and the audience. She sang some songs from I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too, some from her French language album Trauma and a lot of songs from her new album Come Home to Mama, including the spellbinding Proserpina (written by her mother, Kate McGarrigle, shortly before her death in 2010).