Our prescription for a great read – Celebrating 70 years of the NHS
The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
Published: 2009 Virago Press
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
We have chosen this novel as the first of five book recommendations selected by our commercial team. We will share throughout this the celebratory year of 70 years of our NHS. This book is not entirely dedicated to the development of the NHS, but is a work of fiction which touches on the principles of primary care for everyone, regardless of class or ethnicity. It is a Gothic novel set against a backdrop of post war victory and economic decline with an ending that will have you hiding under the duvet for weeks!
The story begins during the long, parched summer of 1948; its focus – the Ayres family. The Ayres are an aristocratic family living in Warwickshire who, as part of all the changes following the end of the Second World War, find themselves questioning the deterioration of everything they have ever known and are desperately clinging onto the last strands of their previously dignified existence. This is a novel that considers social class issues following the war and the changes to public systems, but fundamentally this is a gothic ghost story set in a crumbling mansion around a dysfunctional family, both of which are in steady decline.
Dr Faraday is the narrator of the story; son of working class parents he has climbed the social ladder through the education system. Ever resentful of his grassroots, he falls into an ironic routine of treating patients in rural slums who cannot pay for treatment, so when he receives a call from “Hundreds Hall” in the Warwickshire countryside he romanticises that his luck may be changing.
Taking the call out for his practice partner he drives out toward Hundreds Hall, but his hopes begin to fall as he sees the deterioration of the once grand mansion; they fall even further upon meeting the once celebrated occupants of the hall living in near poverty. Before long, Dr Faradays’ literal, blundering and blind naivety have you, as a reader, ready to shout “It’s behind you”. His clumsy “wooing” of the Ayres’ daughter, Caroline, only seeks to add more depth to the theatre whilst he continues his clinical primary care practice against the backdrop of the changing façade of healthcare provision in post-war Britain.
Haunted house meets social observation of a time gone by, the detail Sarah Waters affords in her descriptions of people and events that have passed is sublime and her commentary of the early national health service a nod toward what was yet to come.
A beautifully written book which highlights the purpose of the NHS in juxtaposition to a class system which the premise of the NHS fundamentally challenges. The book has also been made into a film which is due for release in Autumn 2018