Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Read This Book: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

[In an attempt to get book discussion going on this blog I am installing a new feature that will appear every now and then (or whenever I finish a book). Consider this my makeshift book club, and I hope all of you will join in the fun.]

In what I hope to be a feature that makes a somewhat normal appearance on the blog I would like to recommend to all of you Sarah Waters' newest novel The Little Stranger. Perhaps no other author writing today is doing the whole 'history and mystery' thing better than her. Sadly these tropes have become a bit antiquated and gone by the wayside, but there's something refreshingly classical about her approach to writing. She reminds me of another modern master, Ian McEwan, who also specializes in very literary, yet easily consumable mysteries that swirl around historical events (his Amsterdam won the Booker Prize and Atonement made him a household name).

Waters' newest novel (part of a loose trilogy that also include Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith) is a ghost story on the surface; however, beneath it all are themes as elusive as the phantasms that exist within the pages. The novel is really about how people can create their own nightmares...their own 'ghost stories' if you will. The novel is breezy read that reminds the reader of a more formal, classical novelist like the Bronte's. Her The Night Watch was one of the best novels of 2007, manipulating time and narrative structure to tell a poignant tale revolving around the 1941 blitz and the bombings that took place in 1944. She isn't as playful in her newest novel, and that's okay. I do find it interesting that she has been shortlisted for the Booker prize for the second time in a row. I really like The Little Stranger (I could barely put it down), but if she wins the Booker this year it will be because they passed her up for The Night Watch. Her newest novel is a great read, though, and even though it's not 'Booker good' it's still one of the best things I've read this year.

Coming up next another novel short-listed for the Booker prize: J.M. Coetzee's Summertime (looks like I have to order it from UK, though, because it won't be released here in the States until Christmas eve...booo).


  1. Son of a gun. You know, I'm a member of an on-line forum that is largely book-oriented in nature, and most of the members are from the UK. Every year, when the Booker longlist is announced, many of them try to read their way through it. I was going to join in this year, but I just got too far behind in my other reading, so I bagged it again for another year. But if I HAD done it, then I probably would have read THE LITTLE STRANGER by now, and I could join in the discussion with you. But I didn't, so I can't. Nuts.

    Well, I hope you keep talking about books here anyway. I like them.

  2. Bill:

    I try to do the same thing every year. I always fail. I get through about three novels on the list, but I have a tremendous amount of luck with the books I do pick (and I don't count titles from authors I already revere like Waters, Amis, Coetzee, Rushdie, and McEwan). Two years ago I picked up Darkmans by Nicola Barker. One of the best decisions I have ever made. It's such a wonderfully profane and bizarre novel. It's extremely indebted to Amis, but I didn't mind because that kind of irreverence and chutzpah has been missing in some of Amis' modern works.

    Nicola Barker is now an author I will be on the lookout for. That's why these Booker lists are so great. I strongly recommend Darkmans. The characters are hilarious, and the ending is a nice postmodern take on themes normally broached in a Bergman film.

    Last year the Booker novel I ended up snatching was White Tiger which ended up winning the thing. I still haven't read it, though, hehe.

    Yeah, I'm hoping to make this a regular feature here. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I picked up DARKMANS earlier this year. Haven't read it, but it just sounded so intriguing.

    For what it's worth, the other, very well read members of that forum I mentioned earlier overall thought that THE WHITE TIGER was shit. They have been singing Hosannahs about SUMMERTIME, however. That and WOLF HALL.

    Word verification: imploted

  4. Damn. That's too bad about The White Tiger. I can't wait for Coetzee's new novel -- and I am really excited for that Disgrace is finally making the rounds in American theaters. I can't wait to see that.

    I haven't heard of Wolf Hall...I will look into that.