Tag Archives: Sarah Waters

Echoes of the Past: A Review of The Little Stranger

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, and Winchester

This is a spoiler-free review. 

The Little Stranger is the 2018 film adaptation of a book by the same name written by Sarah Waters, one of my favourite authors. This story was set in 1948, and it followed about a year in the life of Dr. Faraday, a middle-aged man who was one of only two doctors in his rural community. He grew up in a low-income family at a time when the vast majority of children did not move into higher social classes as adults than the ones they were born into, so he was still adjusting to the changes that higher education had brought to his life when this mystery began.

In one of the earliest scenes in the plot, Faraday revisited Hundreds Hall, a mansion that his mother once worked in, after one of the servants who worked at that estate came down with a mysterious illness. The last time he’d visited it had been nearly 30 years ago when he was a young boy and his mother brought him to a public celebration there after the end of World War I.

Hundreds Hall was crumbling by 1948, and the family who lived in it had isolated themselves from the surrounding community to an alarming degree. It was nothing at all like the glamorous, well-kept home that Faraday recalled from his childhood, and the Ayers themselves didn’t seem to be doing well either. After a brief encounter with Roderick, Faraday asked to come back again to see if he can treat some of the pain and muscle stiffness that Roderick had been dealing with since he was wounded in the war. (I’ll give you more details about these characters in a moment).

While he knew that the Ayers have lost much of their wealth over the past few decades, Faraday was still shocked by how much the property has deteriorated since he last saw it. Could their inability to pay for necessary repairs explain what is going on, or was there something else afoot in this once-stunning mansion?

 

The Characters

Domhnall Gleeson as Dr. Faraday

Dr. Faraday, the protagonist, was a middle-aged bachelor whose days are generally spent holding office hours at his clinic and doing home visits for patients who were too contagious, sick, or frail to come see him. Most of his patients were poor, so he didn’t make a great deal of money for someone in his position despite his prestigious title and the long hours he worked.

Charlotte Rampling as Mrs. Ayres

Mrs. Ayers was the matriarch of the Ayers family. Her life had changed dramatically since Dr. Faraday first met her in 1919, from the births of Caroline and Roderick to the steep decline in her fortunes and social standing. She had once hosted grand parties in her home, but she now hid away from the community she’d once embraced. Even her own children didn’t seem to spend a great deal of time with her despite the fact that they all lived in the same home.

Ruth Wilson as Caroline Ayres (right)

Caroline Ayers was Mrs. Ayers daughter. She was by far the most intelligent and resourceful member of the Ayers family, and there were several intriguing references to the things she’d accomplished before her brother’s terrible injuries happened in the war.

Will Poulter as Roderick Ayres

Roderick was Mrs. Ayers son. He was badly injured during World War II. When the events of this book began, he was still dealing with both the physical and psychological effects of his wartime experiences in a time when mental health issues were not well understood and when doctors had far fewer treatments for the serious burns and other injuries he’d survived.

My Review

One of the things I’ve always loved about Sarah Waters’ writing style is how adept she is at giving evidence that can support multiple interpretations of a scene or plot. Most of her books don’t have the strong mystery elements in them that this one does, so the fact that she was able to pull this off while writing in a genre I haven’t seen her spend much time in before was impressive.

Dr. Faraday was a character I had mixed feelings about from the beginning. In one of the earliest scenes, the audience saw him visiting Hundreds Hall in its heyday and purposefully breaking off an ornamental acorns from one of the walls in this home. The reasons why he did that were explored later in the storyline, but they didn’t give me a good first impression of this character.

Getting to know him as the adult he was a few decades later softened my opinion of him. As I mentioned earlier, he’d grown up in a time and place where it was nearly impossible to escape the social class one was born into. The fact that his family had scrounged up enough money to get him through medical school was amazing, and I did admire the determination and grit he must have needed to get through such an experience when his family had so little money to spare.

As intrigued as I was about the Ayers, I didn’t feel like I got to know them quite as well as I could have. I appreciated the fact that Faraday was given so much time to shine, but I would have liked to know a few more details about who Roderick, Caroline, and Mrs. Ayers were as individuals before they began experiencing so much misfortune. The little pieces of their pasts that were shared were well done. I simply needed a few extra scenes describing how and when things had gone so terribly wrong for them.

With that being said, this was something I also noticed in the novel. Explaining why these characters weren’t quite as open with Faraday or the audience as I would have preferred them to be would be wandering dangerously close to spoiler territory, and I do understand why they were written that way even though I wish they could have been a little more forthcoming in the film.

What I did love about the storyline was the way it encouraged the audience to ask questions. It wasn’t immediately clear what was really going on at Hundreds Hall. The servant that Faraday was called to treat was quite spooked by living in there, but she refused to tell him who or what had frightened her. This pattern of dancing around the question of whether what was happening in this mansion was supernatural in origin or had a purely rational explanation occurred over and over again.

Just like when I read the book, I formed my opinion about what was going on pretty early on. I won’t tell you what it was, but I will say that I really enjoyed the process of weighing the evidence and coming up with the most likely explanation for all of the strange, and sometimes violent, occurrences at Hundreds Hall before the final scene was revealed.

This is something I’d strongly recommend checking out to anyone who likes any of the themes or genres I mentioned in this review. I liked this adaptation and thought it complemented the original story nicely.

Speaking of Violence, Is It Gory?

I definitely wouldn’t call this a gory film, but there were a few scenes in it that involved a little blood. If anyone would like more information about this, know that I’ll have to share some mild spoilers in order to go into detail about it. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t bothered by these scenes even though I strongly dislike gore in general. They were brief and fit the tone of the storyline well.

The Little Stranger is available on iTunes.

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics.

Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this list as detailed as possible, so you won’t be seeing vague entries like “science fiction” here.

Instead, I’ll be drilling down to specific topics that I’d be excited to read about with little regard given to which genre they might pop up in.

1.  LGBT+ Historical Novels, Especially Mysteries.

I’m fascinated by how people in the LGBT+ community lived during eras when they had to keep such important parts of themselves hidden away. This is still something that happens with LGBT+ people in many countries and cultures today, of course. Seeing how this has changed or is changing in some parts of the world gives me hope that someday it will improve everywhere.

Watching LGBT+ characters attempt to solve a mystery while also holding tightly onto their own secrets also makes this sort of storyline even more nerve-wracking than it might otherwise be. I want some parts of the plot to be revealed while hoping that other portions are only shared with people who will treat the main character kindly.

Example: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I’m currently read this book, so please don’t share spoilers for it!)

2. Colonizing Mars (and Other Planets).

To put it mildly, humans made a lot of terrible mistakes when they invaded other countries and continents. While there isn’t any life on Mars* that could be destroyed if or when humans begin living there, there are still plenty of ways for that social experiment to have devastating consequences for everyone who participates in it.

Just think of how many people died due to accidents, violence, disease, and malnutrition when Europeans first began living in Australia, the Americas, and other parts of the world. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I expect the death rate for the first few waves of people who move to Mars to be quite high as our species figures out how to survive on a planet that doesn’t even have a breathable atmosphere for us.

*to the best of our current scientific knowledge.

Example: The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.

3. Diverse or Unlikely Heroes. 

I love it when writers create protagonists who don’t fit the audience’s expectations of what a hero should look like. There have been so many examples of young, straight, white men saving the world in various fictional universes that I’m always happy to see people from other demographic groups get an equal chance to fight bad guys, too.

Example: Buffy Summers from the 90’s TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4. How Medical and Scientific Advancements Happened

This is by far the broadest category on this list, but I’m intrigued by how scientists and doctors solved any number of problems in the past that are either unknown in westernized cultures today or no longer exist anywhere in the world. The nice thing about reading about medical and scientific advancements is that the author generally spends most of their time talking about how that invention, cure, or breakthrough happened and how it changed society as a whole.

It’s been my experience that these sorts of books don’t spend much time at all discussing the graphic details of, say, a specific disease or injury. A portion of the first chapter might talk about the typical results for people before the invention of a certain drug or treatment, but generally everything else will be about how the researchers figured out a solution to the problem. I’ll endure a  brief discussion of surgery or gore early on if I’m otherwise interested in the topic and the author soon moves on to how that issue affected society as a whole and how the treatment or solution was eventually found.

Example: Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg.

5. How Social Justice Movements Actually Change the World.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. was widely hated by the mainstream culture before his assassination. He was seen by many white Americans as someone who was pushing for too much change too soon. This wasn’t something that was covered in any of my lessons about him in school, although after reading his wife’s memoir about their life together I wish it had been.

Sometimes the people who originally fought for a more just world aren’t around to see how all of those long years of hard work will begin to pay off.

Changing laws and public opinion on an issue takes time. It’s not generally something that will happen overnight, but it can happen. This is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past year or so, and it’s making me want to read more about what previous generations did to fix the things they saw that were wrong with their societies.

Example: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King.

6. Foster Care and Foster-Adoption.

For the past three generations, various relatives of mine have fostered and adopted children. Honestly, this would be my #1 choice for becoming a parent if I had the desire to raise children. There is an urgent need for foster parents here in North America, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same could be said of many other parts of the world as well.

Having so many extended family members who were foster children makes my ears perk up every time a fiction or non-fiction book is written about this topic.

Example: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

7. Rabbits Enjoying Adventures. 

Anyone who has known me longer than ten minutes will have some inkling of how much I love rabbits.

Anytime they show up as a main or secondary character in a story, I’m immediately interested in finding out what will happen to them.

There aren’t a lot of authors out there who write about rabbits going on quests, so I jump into every example of this niche I can find.

Example: Watership Down by Richard Adams.

8. Hopeful Visions of the Future.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m thirsty for stories that have a hopeful outlook on what is in store for humanity a few decades or centuries from now. The news is so full of fear and apprehension these days that I look for happier perspectives on what life will be like for future generations wherever I can find them.

Example: All of the Star Trek series.

9. Vengeful Ghosts Who Had a Point.

Many different types of ghost stories appeal to me, but the ones I enjoy the most are about folks who had excellent reasons for being so angry and restless in the afterlife.

There’s something emotionally satisfying about figuring out their backstories and seeing if the protagonists will finally be able to help them find the peace they were denied when they were still alive.

I’m also fascinated by how the actions of a small group of people can continue to negatively affect their descendants and/or community for generations to come. This regularly happens in non-paranormal ways in real life, and there often aren’t any easy answers for how to end those cycles once they begin.

Exploring this topic in a ghost story is a wonderful way to neutrally ask questions about justice, reconciliation, and what the current generation should be morally obligated to do to fix the mistakes of people who lived and died long ago.

Example: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

10. The Daily Lives of Prehistoric People.

I sure wouldn’t want to be part of a hunter-gatherer tribe in real life, but I love reading about characters who lived in that kind of society.

There is something fascinating to me about all of the different skills one would need to survive when you need to make, hunt, or gather everything you and your family need to survive.  I’m also drawn to the idea of living in such a tight-knit culture. It’s not something I’d want to do all day every day, but I do see the benefits of forging such strong bonds with others. Having so many adults working together must have made everything from raising children to looking after a sick or injured relative easier than it is in more individualistic cultures.

If there are Neanderthals or other now-extinct human (or human-like) species in the storyline, I’ll be even more interested since there are so many things that a skeleton, stone tool, or cave painting can’t tell you about what a group was actually like.

Example: The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron.

What topics are you always eager to read about?

Saturday Seven: Characters Who Need a Date

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so today I’m thinking about characters who could really have benefited from going on a date. None of the characters I’m about to discuss had romantic storylines. They were far too busy looking after a disabled friend, exploring a haunted mansion, fighting for the freedom of an innocent man, raising a large family, protecting their household from a vengeful spirit, or otherwise staying busy.

While avoiding romantic subplots was definitely the right decision for all of these books, I can’t help but to think that all of the main characters in them would have had happier lives if they somehow could have carved out a couple of hours of free time for an offstage date at some point.

For example…

1. Dr. Faraday from The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

Dr. Faraday rose from humble beginnings to become a respected country physician. Unfortunately, his job didn’t pay well, and his patients kept him so busy that he didn’t have any time at all for romance. This became even more of an obstacle once he realized that a few of his patients may be living in a haunted house. Let’s just say that dealing with what may be a angry ghost doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating.  

He would have some attention-grabbing stories to share on a date, though, and I think it would have been good for him to have someone to discuss all of his eerie experiences with. He lived such a lonely and sometimes even frightening life in this book. Having someone to talk to  would have done him a world of good.

2. Constance Barton from Angelica: A Novel by Arthur Phillips.

Constance was a young Victorian mother who became convinced that an evil spirit was terrorizing her daughter at night. She hired a spiritualist to figure out what the entity wanted and why it was attacking her family.

There was far more happening in the Barton household than what was revealed right away. Constance’s marriage was disintegrating before her eyes, and her health was becoming increasingly fragile as a result of a string of incredibly dangerous pregnancies that had produced only one living child so far.

Constance could have really used a nice, chaste date with someone who treated her kindly and who wasn’t obsessed with having a son to carry on the family name.

3. Miss Peregrine from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children by Ransom Riggs. 

Miss Peregrine was raising multiple children who were mischievous and had magical powers. She’d been doing this on her own for years, and she had no reason to think her duties would ever end because she and her brood been forced to move to a place that existed outside of time in order to avoid being caught by people who wanted to harm all of them. Her wards were always going to remain their current ages due to the weird way that time passed by where they lived.

She was a fantastic parent figure to the kids, but she really could have used one night where she didn’t have to remind anyone to wash their hands or eat their vegetables. A date would do a world of good for this character. Since I haven’t read the other books in this series yet, I can only hope that someday she’ll get to do just that.

4. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 

Atticus was a widower, a single father of two young kids, and a lawyer. He agreed to defend an innocent black man named Tom Robinson who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus probably never would have admitted that he could find the time to date, but this character sure would have benefitted from a few hours away from all of the responsibilities in his life. Other than Tom, of course, Atticus was the character I sympathized the most with in this tale.

5. Susie Salmon from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. 

Susie was violently murdered when she was fourteen. As she adjusted to the afterlife and attempted to contact the loved ones she’d been ripped away from, she began to realize all of the important life events she was going to miss out on because of how young she’d been when she died.

Going on one date would have meant the world to her. I wish she could have had that experience.

6. George from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

George had voluntarily taken on full financial and legal responsibility for a developmentally-delayed friend of his at at time when people who had those kinds of disabilities didn’t have access to any of the government programs or other types of support that they can rely on today.

While this definitely isn’t canon, I imagine George as a man who would have been identified as gay if he’d lived in modern times. He seemed much more comfortable living with and near other men than he did around women, so I’d set him up with a friendly guy who didn’t mind dating someone who already had many responsibilities in life.

Maybe he’d do well dating someone who also knew what it was like to be the legal guardian of someone whose disabilities required them to have close daily supervision?

7. Carrie from Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie’s horribly abusive upbringing made me feel so much sympathy for her, especially once I realized that her life was only slightly less traumatic when she was at school.

If only she’d had the chance to experience a normal, happy existence. There were the briefest glimpses of the person she could have become here and there, but she would have really blossomed if she’d done something as simple as held hands with a cute guy at the movie theatre or had someone in her life who told her she looked pretty every once in a while.

Which characters do you wish you could send on a well-deserved date?

4 Movies I’m Looking Forward to Watching in 2018

So far, 2018 doesn’t seem to be offering quite as many movies that I’m looking forward to watching as the end of 2017 did. This is a good thing, though, since my to-watch list of movies in general is still quite long and I haven’t actually managed to catch any of the movies in that previous post.

It will be nice to have the chance to watch them and some of the other films on my to-watch list over the next few months.

With that being said, there are still a few 2018 movies that I can’t wait to see. Now that we’re quickly moving to the end of this year, this is the perfect time to look forward to some of the exciting stories that will soon be told.

Black Panther 

Release Date: February 9

I’m generally not a huge fan of superhero movies, but Wonder Woman was an exception to that rule earlier this year.

Black Panther will be my 2018 exception to the rule, too. The trailer looked incredible, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the storyline so far. I can’t wait to see if it will live up to the hype, and I fully expect it  to do just that.

A Wrinkle in Time

Release Date: March 9.

Who else loved this book when they were a kid? I’m planning to reread it before watching the movie because I’ve honestly forgotten a lot of the plot. All that remains is a sense of wonder and excitement about the characters’ adventures, and I can’t wait to see how that translates to the big screen.

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s going to be quite the adventure.

The Little Stranger.

Release Date: August 31.

The poster for this film doesn’t seem to be available yet, but that doesn’t make me any less excited to watch it. Sarah Waters is a talented storyteller in general, and this tale of hers is especially thought-provoking because it can be interpreted in so many different ways.

The main character was a doctor who is hired to look after the members of a formerly-wealthy family who live in a crumbling mansion. While tending to the old war wounds of one of the family members, the doctor slowly begins to wonder if the once-grande estate is haunted.

This isn’t your typical ghost story, though. At least in the book, you can find evidence to support nearly any explanation you wish to believe for why that family’s house was so eerie or how they lost their wealth so quickly. I’m hoping the film will capture the grief and decay of that strange house without pushing the audience to any one particular conclusion about why it was such a sad place to live.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Release Date: November 16.
It will be almost a year before anyone gets to see the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’ve already begun to count down the days until the next instalment in this series is released.
I’m thrilled that J.K. Rowling is continuing to expand the Potterverse. While I’ll continue hoping that she’ll someday write a prequel to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that explores his parents’ lives in more depth, I’m happy to learn about other parts of that universe in the meantime.
Fantastic Beasts was an energetic and playful movie. I expect the exact same experience from the sequel.
What 2018 films are you most looking forward to watching?