I've read a few novels by Sarah Waters (maybe even all of them) and this novel is both similar and different from her others. Her novels all explore the psychology of her characters, their relationships, class conditions, and are all set in the past in England, but of the ones I've read this is the first one with a male narrator. Unlike the others, it also doesn't feature a lesbian or queer love story. While it was described as a gothic novel and ghost story, it is really more of a character study with the ghost part of the novel taking second place for the majority of the novel. In fact, while there are some odd occurences towards the beginning, it isn't until over halfway through that these incidents really start becoming a focus since up until that point any weird happenings were easily blamed on people or things.
Dr. Faraday is a country doctor living in the same village he was born and raised in. His parents were poor and struggled their entire lives to ensure that their son would be able to make something of himself, but he has come to the point in his life where he is doubtful of his success, and certainly as one of three or four doctors that works in the area, he isn't exactly very financially secure. Set in the years following World War II, England is still under rations, and life is changing. One remnant of the past is the home and manor of the landed gentry and its residents, the Ayres. The doctor's mother once worked at the house many years ago, and on his one childhood visit there, he was dazzled by its grandeur. Now, almost thirty years later, he returns to the house on a house call to check on a new maid's stomach ailment.
While the case itself wasn't anything to be concerned about, this is the starting point of all the events that will occur later. Dr. Faraday is still fascinated by the house and its inhabitants despite its obvious fall from grace and state of disrepair. Roderick, the son and heir, has a war injury, and Dr. Faraday suggests a experimental treatment, thus giving him reasons to return. Of course, given that Dr. Faraday is the narrator, this appears to be an innocent desire to assist Roderick and his sister Caroline, but Dr. Faraday's continued visits and his way of inserting himself into the family's life were somewhat off putting to me. His friendliness seemed to have an ulterior motive even if the character himself never realized it. In fact, I thought of Dr. Faraday as the definition of the Nice Guy, the one that thinks women should be nice to him and owe him something because he's not a jerk (which basically makes him a jerk).
Over the course of his friendship with the family, and especially Caroline, odd things begin to happen at the house, disrupting life there. However, Roderick has a history of mental issues after his return from the war, and it is quickly determined that he may be behind these ongoings, especially after he reveals certain beliefs to the doctor. However, as the novel progresses, the reader can't help but wonder if there is more going on, whether the house is being haunted in some shape or form by a person or possibly a poltergeist.
I enjoyed the novel quite a bit, and it had a slow leisurely pace, It doesn't work as a scary ghost story since it is too long and too slowly paced for that, but serves incredibly well as a study of this particular doctor and this family, showing the decline of the landed gentry (this is a theme that is already seen in WWI and post WWI novels but here the results of yet another war are even more pronounced) and the ways people delude themselves. Dr. Faraday, while not a likable character, is certainly one worthy of analysis - his obsession with the house has several meanings, including his mother's past as an employee there, what he views his own status to be vs what he feels it should be, and in many conversations he appears more concerned with the house's future than the family. It's not my favorite of Waters' novels but I quite enjoyed reading along and seeing where she was taking the reader and the story.