Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters #20booksofsummer

Book 6

Little Stranger
Historical Fiction 4*s

It is so difficult to fit this book into anyone genre. It could be historical, being set just after World War Two in post-war Britain but it has far stronger elements of the supernatural than I would contemplate if it were other author, and there is a bit of the psychology of the characters to boot.

Dr Faraday first visits Hundreds Hall in rural Warwickshire as a young boy where he accompanied his mother to the elegant mansion. We first meet him though when he returns as a General Practioner to visit a young servant girl who is laid up in bed who mentions something strange which Dr Faraday swiftly dismisses. However, it isn’t long before he becomes a more frequent visitor over time when he becomes bewitched by the household, and by Hundreds Hall itself.

The wonderful storytelling is enacted through the eyes of this disappointed middle-aged GP, Dr Faraday, who has got to the stage in life where he wonders quite how everything has passed him by. He still lives in cramped rooms, never having the means or the need to invest in anything more. He has his close friends which are married but little else, beyond his work to fill the hours of his day but a family of his own has eluded him.

Normally I am very anti anything supernatural in a book, something I wonder if Sarah Waters was aware of, because although this is for those who want it to be, a ghost story, it can almost be read as a series of events which it is perhaps easiest to blame on the supernatural. Well that’s my justification for enjoying this book quite as much as I did – the rest of you can all enjoy a super scary ghost story to frighten the bejeebers out of you!

The household consists of the elderly Mrs Ayers, her son Roderick who has recently returned from the war and her daughter, the spinsterish Caroline. It is clear from the outset that this is a household who have fallen upon hard times. The Hall is much diminished since the days when Dr Faraday’s had that childhood visit, the retinue of staff have fallen away leaving just a housemaid Betty and Mrs Rush, the daily woman. With many of the rooms locked up those that remain in use are literally disintegrating around the family, with wallpaper peeling and the rain finding holes to drip through the roof. Ultimately this is a character driven novel, set at a particular point in history and the tale that unfolds is disturbing in the extreme as small events become more frequent causing disquiet to spread to every nook and cranny of Hundreds Hall

As is her trademark the lives of all involved in this tale are detailed to the minutest degree, the only author I know who can make each action, gesture and speech add something to the story when put into the hands of many, would promote a grumble about filling rather than substance from me. Instead this author makes these small details add something, not only in terms of raising the tension, but telling us more than would appear about each one of the story-dwellers. The tension she promotes raises steadily right until the end, an ending that I didn’t suspect, but now I’ve read it was most fitting.

Whilst this isn’t my favourite of this author’s books, there was so much to enjoy in all those little details, although I was glad to be reading it in the bright sunshine, rather than on a gloomy winter’s evening.

 

Publication Date UK: 28 May 2009
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 499
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Bellman & Black – Diane Setterfield

Ghost Story 4*'s
Ghost Story
4*’s

Blurb

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

Having fallen in love with A Thirteenth Tale (you can see it is still on the bookshelf in my header), I have been eagerly watching out for Diane Setterfield’s next book. For a while Amazon said Untitled with a release date of 2012, then it went to 2013 so I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever happen. It did and the title was to be Bellman & Black.

Reviews began to pop up about this book, and if I’m honest most were lukewarm at best, so I lowered my expectations and realised that this was going to be a different reading experience to her first book.

I will now stop with the comparisons and review this book on its own merits.

The book itself bills this story as a ghost story. My initial impression on finishing it, was, that it reminded me in some elusive way of Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, as it had that moralistic feel to it, although the moral appeared to be a more modern concept than the Victorian time period it is set in.

We first meet Bellman as a ten year old boy playing in the fields with his cousin Charles and friends Luke and Fred. He demonstrates his creativity in solving problems when he hits a rook off a branch killing it. The boys are both fascinated and horrified in the special way ten year olds can be, but they get on with the business of growing up. As the reader we meet them later on when they are all adults.

This isn’t a fast moving book, there is an awful lot about business. William is involved with the running of his uncle’s mill and he is clearly clever, good with figures and exceptionally good at solving problems and presenting viable solutions. I found this interesting, as I did the other informative parts of the book which include Victorian mourning rituals and facts about the crow family. I particularly liked these which are spread throughout the book as footnotes. Diane Setterfield clearly demonstrates her skill as a writer with some of the drier parts of this book, as if I’m honest, I kept waiting for something to happen but was entranced enough to keep reading without becoming too frustrated.

This isn’t going to be the book for you if you want action because even now I’ve turned the last page and reflected, not a great deal happened. I’m not sure what normal ghost stories are like as this isn’t a type of book I seek out but this didn’t scare me as I felt the worst had already happened to William,and that was life and not ghosts. This story is about love, loss and death but in a quite remote way as we see William’s reaction to these events as a spectator, I didn’t feel connected to him although I sympathised with him.

If you want to lose yourself in some authentic-feeling Victorian novel then try this. I found it more of an informative read than an entertaining read but one done with great style. I do love the cover which I know isn’t a reason to buy a book but it does help to wear a good jacket!

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in return for my opinion in this review.