I’m also reading Sarah Waters’s new novel, The Little Stranger, this week. I’m about midway through, and so far I’m in agreement with Laura Miller’s praise for the book. On the surface, the book is a creepy, highly readable Gothic ghost story set in post-WW II England. But of course, ghost stories are never just ghost stories, or at least the good ones aren’t, and Miller makes a great argument for what Waters has achieved with the novel, writing: “Ghosts are not supposed to exist, which is one reason why ghost stories are often about things that people try to deny. The rage and sexual longings of lonely, well-bred women, for example, infuse the two great classics of the form: Henry James’ ‘Turn of the Screw’ and Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House.’ … [With this novel] Waters has boldly reassigned all these gothic motifs from their usual Freudian duties to another detail entirely: “The Little Stranger” is about class, and the unavoidable yet lamentable price paid when venerable social hierarchies begin to erode.”
The novel’s beautifully written too. Last night while reading, I came across this passage, which reminded me of Elizabeth Bowen in the acuteness of the psychological description. It takes place as the male narrator is leaving a dance with a younger female friend:
The gesture jarred with me. She had had that brandy early in the evening, and, after that, a glass or two of wine, and I’d been glad to see her–as I’d thought of it then–letting off steam. But where, for those first few dances, she’d been genuinely loose and tipsy in my arms, it seemed to me now that her giddiness had something just slightly forced about it. She said again, “Oh, isn’t it a shame we have to leave!”–but she said it too brightly. It was as if she wanted more from the night than the night had so far given her, and was broadening and hardening her strokes against it in an effort to make it pay up.
The last sentence is the one I think is so good; it seems like the perfect description of when the end of the night turns you brassy.