One of my favorite librarian duties is choosing books for discussion. For Dish! A Foodie Book Club (which meets tonight), I vary the subject month to month—memoir, history, food industry, cultural aspects of food.
Selecting titles for Bound Together Book Club, a collaboration between Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, requires additional planning, since our mission is to create dialogue about art and literature.
For our May 13 meeting, Bound Together’s focus is “Imagining Home,” title of the current exhibit of the Museum’s Heinz Architectural Center. To pair a book with this exhibit, I searched for fiction in which a house plays an important role, or could even be considered a main character.
I chose Sarah Waters’ horror novel The Little Stranger, with slight reservations. The thought of reading a thick (458 page) horror novel intimidated (and frightened) me, even though this haunted house story met the criteria of home as protagonist.
It’s frustrating that novels are categorized in reductive ways. Genre labels such as horror, romance, mystery, tell us where to shelve a book and offer a hint about storyline, but reveal nothing of literary quality.
The Little Stranger, however, came highly recommended. Sarah Waters previously penned three historical fiction novels, two of which were shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. The Little Stranger landed on the Booker 2009 shortlist, too.
Just a few pages into The Little Stranger I relaxed, knowing I’d chosen well. Set in 1947 rural England, war rationing is still in place. The narrator, an articulate, likable middle-aged physician, answers a call to Hundreds Hall, a declining Georgian mansion he remembers visiting as a young child, when his mother worked there as a maid. Hundreds Hall and the family who live there gradually absorb, haunt, and finally possess his thoughts, time, and energy.
It’s a strangely beautiful novel, creepy, psychologically complex, atmospheric, one I’ll continue to ponder.