The Little Stranger
The mind can play dastardly tricks on the unsuspecting soul who lies wide awake in the middle of a dark night. Given just a few minutes deep within the silence that lurks after the clock strikes midnight, it can easily turn the most innocuous molehill into quite the unscaleable mountain, change a simple sore throat into a lethal case of lockjaw; a pin-sized mosquito bite into an exotic fever rarely seen outside the realm of voodoo. With a modicum of encouragement it can bewitch the coat rack into a knife-wielding fiend, the squirrel on the roof to Beelzebub, or the friendly shadow of the oak tree into the Wicked Witch of the West.
It can even make a woman firmly in the grasp of adulthood lean over the side of the bed and attempt to awaken her sleeping dog for company. And yes, I speak from experience, for last week, on the first dark night of September, I was scared silly. And I blame Sarah Waters.
It was well past midnight and I was up way too late with my nose in a book, an occurrence which is hardly unusual. The book was The Little Stranger by the aforementioned Ms. Waters, and I was about halfway along. Having heard from several quarters that this was a delightfully ghostly story - comparisons to Henry James and Poe were being bandied about - I naturally saved it for a night just like this one....chilly enough for blankets, the black sky enshrouded with clouds, without the faintest twinkle of starlight able to pierce the inky gloom. “Ooh, perfect”, I thought as I snuggled down and began to read. Like the slow winding of a clock, the story kept tightening. I did not even notice it at first. A few strange happenings here, a bit of foreboding there. I kept turning the pages, faster and faster, until all of a sudden I found myself as spooked as the child who is certain something unspeakable dwells in his closet, something that whispers his name in the dark. I closed the book with a snap. I listened. No sound but the sleep of the innocent.
I tried to wake Edward, asleep down below me. I called to him softly and he lifted his head to stare at me - a little unfocused, the white fur on his head mussed and shaggy from sleep. I patted the bed - in what I hoped was a most inviting and nonchalant way - silently praying he would jump up and lie on my feet as he does on the cold nights of winter. But no such luck tonight for he simply nodded at me and fell back asleep as I watched. So I lay there, with the covers up under my chin, wide-eyed and listening and most determined in future to only open this book on the sunniest part of the cheeriest day.
I do highly recommend it however. For the old-fashioned chills one rarely gets from a book these days. Just be careful when and where you read it. And remember, you have been warned.
Painting by Gustave Dore
September 9th Update.... The Little Stranger as been shortlisted for the Booker Prize!!