Archive for the ‘Sarah Waters’ Tag

Review: Who Didn’t Win the Booker but I read anyway, Part One

Why not start with a big one? In anticipation of the 2009 Booker winner, which was announced last week, I began reading every book on the shortlist that was available in the States. Being that it is a British literary fiction prize, I was only able to read two of them: A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book and Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. (I did, by the way, read William Trevor’s Love and Summer, which was longlisted but did not make the cut; sad, that.) In case, you were wondering (though who does after the winner is announced), the others were The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds, Summertime by J.M Coetzee, The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

The Quickening Maze and The Glass Room did not, and currently do not, have U.S. publication dates, so I didn’t get to read those. I absolutely refuse to read anything new by Coetzee because everything he writes is about an aging writer named James Coetzee, or something or another. I don’t like self-congratulatory writers.

First, I read Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, my first interaction with her. Her novel takes place after World War II in Warwickshire at the decaying and decrepit mansion, Hundreds Hall. It is told from the perspective of a doctor who attempts to rationalize all the strange little happenings that go one there. This perspective lends itself to the early 19th century detective novels and reminds me distinctly of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The doctor goes to investigate a sick servant, sticks around for the rest of the book, falls in love with the daughter of the owner, she falls out of love with him, everyone goes crazy, the end. But the interesting thing and perhaps what the entire novel hinges on is: Waters is never explicit about whether what drove this family to madness was in fact a genetic deformity passed down or caused by the loss of money and prestige; or a mischevious moving into homicidal little demon/ghost/daemon/sprite/spirit, etc., etc. This is the brilliance of her writing. She asks you, do you believe the doctor? Even though he’s a prat, indecisive, and unsympathetic? Or do you believe the crazy people who talk of ghosts that haunt the hall and seek to impart mental and physical destruction on its inhabitiants? Tricky.

Most of the reviews I read were by British critics and reviewers and they seemed to comment mostly on the particular condition of the aristocracy living in post-World War II society, what they lost, how they dealt or didn’t deal with this immense change to their society. I guess I didn’t really pick up on that, being that I’m not British, and did not live through that era, or studied it in any way.

I really enjoyed The Little Stranger  but I believe, along with some of the judges, it was a little too sensational. A ghost story winning the Booker, not that I’ve seen. If anything, it’s made me want to go back and read her others, they’ve got lesbians I heard.