The Little Stranger is an interesting book. It takes place in an English country house, Hundreds Hall, as bizarre events begin happening to the house itself and the three people living in it — Mrs. Ayres and her children, shattered war veteran Roderick and capable spinster Caroline. The story is told from the point of view of the local physician, Dr. Faraday, who begins as a detached observer but finds himself becoming more and more entangled in the lives of the family and of the house itself.
In fact, this is in many ways a traditional-feeling ghost story or gothic horror story, but it’s set not in Regency or Victorian England but in a more bittersweet and poignant time: the years immediately after World War Two, when the social fabric of England is changing forever. Hundreds Hall, once a grand home of the landed gentry run by a full staff of servants, is now a shadow of a dying world, where a family who can find no place in the modern world struggles with maintaining their place in the community and the crushing burden of running their house and estate, with only a dwindling handful of servants to share the burden.
This setting makes the story more layered and interesting than it would be if set in the more distant past. As the world around them becomes more modern, rational and scientific, the Ayres family finds themselves caught up in events that can’t be explained rationally. Faraday, the man of science, desperately tries to find logical explanations for the strange events and tries to ignore the bizarre and inexplicable — until it catches up with him.
I found The Little Stranger evocative and compelling, although I kept waiting for a resolution or explanation of the “ghost story” which never fully happened. But what I found most interesting about the book was the poignant evocation of social change and class upheaval that occurred in the postwar years, and the picture of people clinging to the last shreds of a social order that will never be the same. Hundreds Hall itself, and the family who live there, are the real ghosts in this ghost story — ghosts of a lost world.