The Little Stranger follows Faraday, a respectable country doctor in post-World War II England who is called to assist the Ayres family—an aristocratic family whose once elegant home, Hundreds Hall, has fallen into disrepair as their power and wealth dwindle with the collapsing noble class. His patient, Roderick, lives there with his mother and sister as they all wage daily battles to prevent the inevitable loss of their formerly prosperous country estate. Roderick was wounded in the second World War and has never recovered—but his injuries are not all that plague him. The entire family is gripped with a subtle fear. Hundreds Hall is haunted—by guilt, regret, fear—and perhaps something else.
Sarah Waters' gift for historical fiction shines once again in this novel, showing her meticulous attention to period detail and ability to craft historical settings that are easy to fall into. The characters in The Little Stranger are interesting, complicated people that you don't necessarily like or dislike, but who feel very real. While the setting, characters and writing style are carefully arranged, the plot itself feels almost like an afterthought. The story seems to rise and fall without any structure and the pacing is wholly unpredictable. Tension is built slowly and carefully but, just when the reader is expecting a big reveal or dramatic event, the story shifts back to a slow, meandering exploration of English country life post-WWII. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of taking you to a complex, atmospheric setting with believable characters and accurate historical representations. It fails, and rather significantly, in creating a satisfying conclusion to a plot that, at times, feels very promising. Though I found the ending of this book to be a bit of a letdown, the overall quality of the writing—in terms of dialogue, setting, character development, and historical accuracy—made it still worth the read.