“They seem to pride themselves on living like the Brontës out there, cauterising their own wounds and what not…”
I am so behind! And on my first readalong too…
So we were supposed to have read at least half of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger by 11 September, and so I daringly started the book on that very day. It’s the 13th of September and I am almost (just almost!) halfway there.
And yes, things are finally happening!
That’s the thing about reading for RIP. There are high expectations. Of goosebumps and chills running down the spine while reading. But with this book, that didn’t happen for quite a while. And to be honest, it’s not all that creepy. At least not yet.
Waters takes a very gradual route, introducing us first to the Hundreds Hall (once “an absolute mansion”) and the fading Ayres family and Dr Faraday’s childhood connection to this landed gentry of a family (his mother was a nursemaid). He gets called to treat the Ayres’ maid who is supposedly suffering from a gastric ailment but learns she is afraid – of the house. This gets dismissed rather quickly and Dr Faraday begins to wheedle his way in with the Ayres (his boyhood self probably chuckling with delight every time he gets to have tea in the parlour with Mrs Ayres herself). The daughter Caroline is the strong one. The son Roderick was injured in the war and that is Faraday’s key into the Hall – he offers to give the limping Rod weekly treatments, purportedly for a paper he’s writing. The Ayres family is struggling with the upkeep of their estate, selling off land, making do with just one maid… ah the life of the not-doing-too-well.
Anyway, so somewhere before we hit the 100-page mark, the Ayres host a party with their new neighbours and the neighbours’ spoilt little girl gets mauled by the amiable dog Gyp.
Unexpected but not very creepy, you’re probably thinking.
And so it seemed, until Roderick confesses to Dr Faraday what he’s been experiencing lately, a malevolent thing that is trying to hurt him, playing tricks on him, and just truly hating hating him. He calls it an ‘infection’.
There are strange burn marks on the ceiling and the walls of Roderick’s room. And he’s been getting into all kinds of scrapes and bruises. Then that mysterious fire. Nobody quite understands it. Everyone thinks he’s just overstressed with the management of the failing estate, or perhaps it has to do with his war wounds.
It’s funny that I’m now at this point in the book where all seems nice and normal again. The doc and Caroline are inspecting the new housing being built on the grass-snake field, meeting the man with the half-cooked sausages for fingers. So I’m wondering what’s going to happen next.