Little Stranger, Noah’s Compass, WIB 2010 #16

On my friend Ainsley’s recommendation I read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  I happened to have it with me during an insanely long hair salon appointment, so I read it for four solid hours, then finished it in another hour at home after the kids were in bed. The Little Stranger is the kind of book you can’t put down and want to keep reading without a break.  The writing is excellent (Waters is a Man Booker Prize finalist for good reason), the descriptions of England between World Wars I and II is amazing, and the plot is engrossing.

Waters explores themes like class differences, how people change with the times or get left behind, how British society changed after World War I and what that meant for impoverished aristocrats and upwardly mobile working class people, family relationships and other interesting topics in the course of the story.  I was completely drawn in to the world Waters described and found I learned a lot.

My one problem with this otherwise excellent book is the ending.  I can’t really get into it here without spoiling the book for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, but I could barely restrain myself from picking up a pen and rewriting the last section.  I think the problem could have been so easily fixed – I didn’t buy one aspect of the ending and I think if Waters had left more uncertainty to it, it would have been more satisfying.  Had the ending been better, I would have selected this book as one of my tops for this year.

On the whole though, The Little Stranger is a great book and I’d recommend it to you if you’re looking for some well written, gripping literary fiction.

Anne Tyler is one of my favorite authors, so I looked forward to reading Noah’s Compass.  As usual, Tyler’s writing was strong but I found the book was not my favorite of her works.  I just didn’t find myself liking the characters very much, and when you aren’t invested in the characters, it’s hard to love a book.

Since I’ve read a few Tyler books in the recent weeks and months, I thought it was interesting to see the recurrent themes in her work.  Her books deal with identity and family relationships, and I love how her characters develop over the course of a story.  I was struck by how similar one of the female characters in Noah’s Compass is to one of the female characters in Patchwork Planet (scroll down for review), and the male characters in the two books bore some resemblance to each other as well.

If you’re a fan of Anne Tyler’s writing, you’ll probably like this book, but it may not be your favorite.  If you haven’t read much Anne Tyler yet, I’d recommend you start with Digging to America or The Accidental Tourist.

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8 thoughts on “Little Stranger, Noah’s Compass, WIB 2010 #16

  1. I heartily agree about the ending to The Little Stranger….not as satisfying as the book on the whole. Since recommending T.L.S., I have gone on to read another of Waters’ books, Fingersmith…it is set in 19th century England and is about a plot by several thieves (fingersmiths) to abscond with an heiress’ fortune. It is similarly un-put-down-able, contains many quite unexpected and immensely enjoyable twists, and it is as well-written as The Little Stranger. I recommend it for a gripping and quick read, with the caveat that it contains some shocking (SHOCKING) sexual material. If you can get past or around that, you will no doubt quite enjoy the story.

      1. Hm, I just went to Amazon to read about Waters’ other books, and don’t think I’ll be reading any of them. I’m surprised that TLS was so different in subject matter from the others she’s written (at least as reviewed on Amazon) – as I read TLS I was surprised and pleased that it was so clean without being trite and boring and now I’m sad that her other books aren’t like it.

        1. Yes, I thought to myself, as I read Fingersmith, that I ought to have read at least some reviews of it before blithely picking it up from the library. I was, from time to time, really quite disturbed, but the plot was simply too compelling for me to walk away.

  2. Interesting about The Little Stranger! Did you mention this book before? I think I got it based on your recommendation, and put it on my iPod. I’m about 1/3 of the way through it and am enjoying it so far.

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