The Stranger by Saskia Sarginson is the story of Ellie, an English woman who during her last year at high school is rape and becomes pregnant by a older family friend. Under pressure from her disbelieving parents she gives the child away and soon finds her glittering future as a midwife something she can no longer face. Instead she marries the lovely Will and follows him around England, from one university job to the next, until they got to their 40’s and they both decide to buy a beautiful small cottage with lots of land, rescue animals and Ellie run the local café. Its all very nice and English until Will suddenly dies in a tragic car accident and Ellies life becomes involved in the immigrant crisis of 2015
Overall I liked this book and my only problem with it was the constant bombardment of incredibly horrible events that happen to Ellie. Throughout the story she is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. First she is raped, then she see’s her husband die in a car crash, then she watches a circus lion nearly kill a young girl, she also manages to get herself locked in a caravan full of migrant women, see her boyfriend get blown up, delivery a baby and discover a fake death to cover up domestic violence.
Now I understand the writer had to put in these events to make the story more interesting….and it works. The story is very gripping, but it is also unbelievable.
But this book is saved from becoming an over dramatic trashy novel by Ellie’s reactions, the believable dialogue, the interesting themes and the great rounded characters that Saskia Sarginson constructs.
Ellie’s response to all the events in her life is very human and very English. She never makes herself the victim, but instead tries to be strong and grow from the events. For instance when talking about giving her child away, she relates how later in life she regretted it, but as a young girl she wanted to achieve so much, which she knew she could not do with a child. From this she learns to sympathize with others and try and teach them from her mistakes, as we see with Anca at the end of the novel. Also although she is a strong, intelligent, independent woman, who can run her own business she still admits she needs help and feels safer with someone around, especially the strong Luca. Her response to many events are also heartfelt and kind, which makes her very likable. For instance she doesn’t fire Kate -her cafe assistant, when she starts making mistakes, as she likes her. She also keeps harboring Luca (even after he is accused of rape) as she knows he is a kind man.
There are many themes in the book, but the overriding one is the immigration crisis in England in 2015. Saskia Sarginson tries to show the reality of this situation from almost every angle, without judgement and with a lot of understanding. For instance we see the migrant story from Anca view point who explains why she is afraid to leave and the realities of being a modern slave. David also explains to us why he chose’s to keep the migrants and his motivations behind his actions. The gossipy village people who believe the migrants are rapist and robbers are also treated kindly and lets Ellie explain how they have worked hard and believe they now want to live in a quite little village and they distrust anything that could disturb this. The story also shows how although they harbor anti immigration views thy also believe in helping them and put on a charity fundraiser to offer aid.
The Stranger in the title appears to refer to Luca, the Lion tamer who shows up in Ellie’s field and who she offers bed and board to, despite being warned against it by many people. However the STRANGER could be a number of people in the book as everyone holds a secret, even Ellie herself. For instance the Stranger could be Ellie’s adopted son-who is the center of first chapter and who the reader is let to suspect may be David’s son (although this would be a huge coincidence), there is also David himself who Ellie constantly has to reassert, firsts hes the stand nice but very post landed gentry, then he’s a bereaved widow, loving family man and friend, then a kind lover, then someone to distrust, then to fear and then hate. The stranger could refer to her dead husband Will who Ellie suspects after his death of having an affair and therefore of never really knowing him. The stranger could also be Anca, Davids housemaid she shows up to help her in the cafe and clean her house but only reviles her truth towards the end of the book and becomes very close to Ellie
Overall this is a good book and Id recommend anyone to give it a go