Daily Archives: April 4, 2010

Sunday Salon – April 4, 2010

April 4, 2010

Good morning, and to those who celebrate it…Happy Easter. It is a gloomy day here with dark clouds threatening rain. I have been longing for some sunshine over the last few days, but I guess I will have to wait at least another day or two before I get it!

Since my last Sunday Salon, I’ve managed to read two books and start a third.

I completed One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (read my review) which I had been very curious about since it arrived via a Shelf Awareness offer several weeks ago. This is a quick read, and although it did hold my attention, the ending left me unsatisfied. Divakaruni writes beautiful prose, and I could see her comfort as a writer has been rooted in short stories…for these reasons, I would like to read a collection of her stories someday. Have you ever read anything by this author?

Yesterday I blew through the last 150 pages of Sarah Waters’ Gothic novel The Little Stranger (read my review). Although the beginning dragged a bit for me, the latter part of the book was riveting. I have yet to be disappointed by a Waters’ novel. In The Little Stranger, she deviates from her Victorian age plots and sets the reader down in rural England in the late 1940s. Some people have been calling this book a ghost story, and although there are ghostly happenings, I would not necessarily put this into the ghost story category. Forced to classify it, I would say it is a Gothic mystery.

Before drifting off to sleep last night, I managed to read nearly 40 pages of  The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. This book was short listed for the 2009 Booker Prize, and I have heard mixed things about it. Some readers love the novel, calling it beautifully crafted, while others have complained it is dull. So far, I am not finding it dull…but it is far too early for me to make a judgment on this book. Stay tuned for a review later in the week.

I would love to spend the day reading, but unfortunately I have to deal with taxes today. I am far behind this spring in pulling together receipts and necessary paperwork, and time is running out. So I’ll be crunching numbers for several hours, in between doing laundry. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a couple of hours at the end of the day to read further in Mawer’s novel.

What are YOU doing today? Whatever it is, I hope there is time at some point for a great book!

The Little Stranger – Book Review

The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop  – to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self perhaps: a Caliban, a Mr. Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, and malice, and frustration… – from The Little Stranger, pages 353-354 –

In a small English village in Warwickshire sits a Georgian home called Hundreds Hall. It was once an elegant mansion with beautiful grounds and many servants to keep its rooms flawless. But the war has taken its toll on the people and economy of England, and Hundreds Hall is now in decline with crumbling masonry, weed-choked gardens and leaky ceilings. Dr. Faraday, the local physician, had visited the mansion as a child and his mother was once a maid there, so he is shocked at what the once beautiful home has become when he is called out to see an ailing servant girl. He quickly befriends those still living at Hundreds Hall: the elderly Mrs. Ayres and her two adult children… Roderick (who is crippled from the war), and Caroline. Within a short period of time, strange things begin to happen – scorch marks appear on the walls, the telephone rings in the middle of the night and then goes dead, and the family dog acts out of character. Are these events caused by a ghost, as Betty the young servant girl believes, or something far more sinister?

Sarah Waters’ newest novel is Gothic in style. Set in post-war England sometime in the the late 1940s and narrated by a questionable narrator (Dr. Faraday), the story unfolds slowly at first but then picks up about mid-way through the book. Waters takes her time to carefully develop her characters and introduces the theme of class differences early on when it becomes evident that Dr. Faraday has never relinquished his dismay at being the son of a maid, and the Ayreses (despite their current bleak economic situation) will always consider themselves a family of means.

As in all good Gothic novels, Hundreds Hall becomes a character in the book. The descriptions of the house’s decline, its dark and gloomy halls and closed off rooms with peeling or mildewed wallpaper, seems to be a metaphor for the economic decline of the times. Beneath its crumbling exterior, the house also holds family secrets and tragedy.

Waters gives clues as to the malevolent presence in the house, but it is not until the end that I was certain of its origins…and then I was thrilled by Waters’ deft manipulation of her story. As with all of her work, Waters’ writing is sophisticated and satisfying, and filled with descriptions which capture the historical time of the story.

My only complaint, and it is a small one, was the slow pace at the beginning of the book. Waters takes her time to set the stage and introduce her characters, and at times I grew impatient for some action. Once events start to happen, however, the pace picks up. I found myself reading straight through the last 150 pages with barely a break.

Readers who have liked Waters’ previous books and who like a good Gothic mystery, will most likely find The Little Stranger an enjoyable, albeit disturbing, read.