By Sarah Waters
Modern day horror stories seem required to contain a healthy dose of gore and detached limbs, so it’s a pleasure to encounter a tale that depends solely on the tension of a setting to provide the chills. British author Sarah Waters’ latest novel, The Little Stranger, mounts a convincingly terrifying case as to why one should not live in a rambling, dilapidated old estate. Set in 1949 England, in a small countryside town, Hundreds Hall is home to the last of the landed gentry, who’ve lost all their money and are managing to survive by selling off family heirlooms and shutting off wings in their ancient abode. The local doctor, Farraday, also the narrator, is called out to attend to one of the two servants left and becomes entwined with the family, the Ayreses, as he recalls how his parents worked as servants themselves at Hundreds. The owners, a family composed of fading beauty Mrs. Ayres, hearty daughter Caroline and war-wounded son Roderick, all seem to be on the verge of something…something not good. Farraday describes the ghostly incidents and psychological horrors that follow with a tense mix of scientific distance and a yearning, unaware desire to be one of them, one of the aristocrats. The Little Stranger is a book about ordinary life and Waters’ deftly lulls you into a sense of security, so the frightening moments become ever more magnified.