Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger

So I've been reading Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger  the last few days and I have to say one aspect of it is really annoying me: the long chapters. Sheesh, how am I supposed to find two hours in one sitting to read a 200 page chapter? And it's not like there are many breaks within a chapter as natural ending points either.

It might seem like a small thing but I constantly drop back in to the middle of the action (her scenes go on and on and on...) and have to re-orient myself again.

The novel is set just after WWII in rural England and is told by a local doctor whose mother was a servant in The Hundreds, a dilapidated old mansion whose family is odd and isolated. Formerly part the ruling class, the family struggles with one inept servant and Waters does what Downton Abbey tries to do (though this book pre-dates D.A.) but without the opulence or obsequiousness of "before". We only see the shabbiness and helplessness of the after.

While I am reading in bed at night, I start to get a bit sleepy and zip ahead to see how many pages are left and then realize it's going to take another hour to get through this chapter. Ugh. Then I get irritated.

You'd think I could just get lost in the story and not notice but there are too many demands on our time today. It doesn't work that way.

And I've been thinking about this, how unusual it is nowadays when so many books have short chapters or many ending points within a chapter. I always assume it's a natural breaking point for a writer, to end a scene, to stop for the day. I can't imagine how a writer spends all day writing a few pages, then returns tomorrow and has to carry on with the same conversation, the same tensions, the same scene as she did the day before.

It's a good book otherwise. I like the atmosphere she creates of the spooky old house and all the dysfunction and polite chatter that masks something lurking underneath. The protagonist is elusive, the other characters all seem to be hiding things.

But shorter chapters, please!!

1 comment:

  1. I found the novel to be both gripping and clever, working on many levels at once. The ending is nicely enigmatic, leaving the reader thinking.

    Class is discussed through the inhabitants of Hundreds Hall and the narrator, a family doctor, who comes from a working class background. The narrator is unreliable.

    At the heart of this is a mystery about the house, the Ayreses and the doctor, making it a gripping read. Who is the 'little visitor'?