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The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, it's driving me mad! Spoilers!

(23 Posts)
millythepink Sun 12-May-19 10:52:00

Just finished and really enjoyed it. But have re-read the ending twice and cannot decide whether the doctor did/didn't do it? I hate ambiguous endings.

Anyone able to help me decide?

OP’s posts: |
woodcutbirds Sun 12-May-19 14:53:24

I love this debate.
Waters claims she has made it obvious who did it. Most people think it's him.
I think it's his mother's ghost. Because if not, then there is no supernatural element and it would be such a shame.
My theory is:
His mother was a nursemaid at the hall. She got dismissed. Later we learn the master got a servant into trouble and that servant was dismissed. The doctor has no father, so this seems to be a clue that his mother was the one who got dismissed for being pregnant.
This also explains the attraction/revulsion between him and they could be half brother and sister.
It explains why weird noises come from the nursery, where she used to work, and why she appears in his fevered dream the night of the murder. Or perhaps the mother possesses him and he does the deed.

What do you think?

woodcutbirds Sun 12-May-19 14:55:32

Also doesn't Caroline say there was a nursemaid who she didn't like or who didn't like her? (Ages since I read it so only half remember) When she says 'You!' at the end, I thought she was identifying the mother. But could equally be him. He is The Little Stranger of the title, isn't he?

PhilipMarlowe Sun 12-May-19 14:59:28

I always thought it was the doctor's subconscious, a sort of living ghost. I love this book; think I'll reread it!

Cornishblues Sun 12-May-19 16:49:38

I read the book twice and didn’t see it first time but second time read it as the doctor all along- the only part I can’t quite fit with that is the dog’s attack. Having read another of Water’s books, Affinity, where a rational explanation is found for events that appear supernatural, I think there must be answers in the book somewhere.

thisisalongdrive Sun 12-May-19 16:52:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Sun 12-May-19 17:23:36

Don't know if it helps you but in last year's film adaptation it is the lifelike spectre of a young Faraday.

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Sun 12-May-19 17:27:49

A projection of his jealousy and resentment.

millythepink Sun 12-May-19 19:24:59

But, surely the ghost who haunts and torments Gyp, Roddie and Mrs. Hayes is the dead Susan? There's no way the doctor could do those things, as half the time he wasn't even in the house! Or, are we meant to think he is somehow psychically projecting himself?

When Caroline 'falls' from the upper landing the maid says she looked 'like a cat bring held that wanted to be put down' which makes me think the doctor was holding her and suspending her over the bannister before letting her fall? And, the maid couldn't see him in the dark? And, that's why Caroline is heard to exclaim 'You!' because she recognised the doctor. If it had been the ghost of Susan she wouldn't recognise her, and if it had been the ghost of her mother surely she would have exclaimed 'Mother!'

OP’s posts: |
RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 07:16:58

are we meant to think he is somehow psychically projecting himself?
In the film which I think tried to stay close to the source material but I haven't read the book, the director said: Faraday and another doctor are discussing whether or not, under significant pressure, the subconscious might somehow fracture from the conscious and become a force by itself. At the moment where the boy breaks the acorn, that's the moment at which his rage, desire, impotent longing, and knowledge that he'll never be accepted fractured.
"That's where that happens and that's where you feel the house has absorbed something. And that's what lives in it. And the image of the boy is a kind of representation of that. We're not saying that it was the physical boy that pushed Caroline. We're saying that it was something of him."

He also says: the force in the house is something that came from the child. How does this thing in the house show itself to all the characters? To Roddy, who obviously was in a fireball of a plane crash, it shows itself as fire.
"To Mrs. Ayres, it shows itself as the lost girl, the daughter, Sukey, who is also the misdirect.
"But to Caroline, it's the monstrous version of him, which is the closest to the truth.''

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 07:26:46

Just seen interview with Sarah Waters - she says Faraday was more of an agent in events than she had first intended when she started writing the book. She also says it is a haunted house story not a ghost story because the supernatural element is something more interesting than a ghost.

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 07:39:56

A poster from a book blog speaks of the psychological energy of Dr. Faraday, his lust for the house and repressed class hatred of the Ayres, taking supernatural form (Caroline's "little stranger" theory) and deliberately exploiting the emotional baggage of the others to possess the house. Faraday is doing it unconsciously. I never doubted that we're supposed to find him the moving agent. He feels a wave of malice toward the girl's father right before the dog attacks, he deliberately gives Roderick one more night at home, the ghost only starts evoking Susan after he learns more about her death, and the book repeatedly makes the point that bad things only happen at the house in his absence.

woodcutbirds Mon 13-May-19 09:15:33

But is he Caroline's half brother? That's what I want to know. Has Waters ever spoken about that?

millythepink Mon 13-May-19 09:25:34

Oh that is so interesting @rage. I think you have convinced me. I might need to read it a second time now and look for all the clues.

OP’s posts: |
RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 12:58:41

You are welcome. I might read it myself now. The author herself more or less confirms it in the following article. Have copied and pasted pertinent bits below but whole thing worth a read.

I've always been drawn to the post-Freudian interpretation of the poltergeist as an acting-out of psychic distress – "a bundle of projected repressions...
In other words, while Hundreds Hall was definitely to be a haunted house, it was to be haunted not by the spirits of the dead, but by the unconscious aggressions and frustrations of the living. I wanted The Little Stranger to be a sort of supernatural country house whodunit – a "whose poltergeist is it?"
The fact is, I worked hard to spike the novel with clues as to where, exactly, the "bundle of projected repressions" which consumes Hundreds Hall has its roots; the spikiest of these is the book's last line.

NottonightJosepheen Mon 13-May-19 13:03:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 13:15:48

Does this help woodcut? from the book blog btl comments...

Re the theory that Faraday was conceived from an affair at hundreds - the dates don't quite match. He was 10 in 1919 and his mother left in 1907. Faraday's mother wasn't Caroline's nursemaid- she worked for their grandmother therefore would have been their father's nursemaid. Mrs Ayers says at one point that his mother was there "slightly before my time" at which Faraday comments that his mother left in 1907.

Kudos to Zahra, Callie and Tentative - whose comments I've pasted here (I have no skin in the game but ambiguity never sits well with me! winkgrin)

SinisterBumFacedCat Mon 13-May-19 13:17:59

Ages since I read it but I thought it was the Doctor, at the end he sees his reflection.

RageAgainstTheVendingMachine Mon 13-May-19 13:20:14

Yes Josepheen - certainly many of the reviews of the adaptation were not just picking up on him being an unreliable narrator but also framing the work and original story as an example of toxic masculinity and male entitlement.

NottonightJosepheen Mon 13-May-19 13:43:30

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

NottonightJosepheen Mon 13-May-19 13:46:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

woodcutbirds Mon 13-May-19 23:14:44

Rage thank you. That's a closer reading than I did, and it shows they didn't overlap. So it must be him. Though his mother manifests in his dream in the car doesn't she? Very odd...

RosaWaiting Mon 24-Jun-19 01:03:06

I’ve read this book many times
A pp says Faraday doesn’t have a father? He does!

Also the interviews I’ve read with the author leave it open, no conclusion, certainly I’ve never come across her saying it’s obvious, it’s deliberately left inconclusive.

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