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The Paying Guests Hardcover – September 16, 2014
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Title: The Paying Guests <>Binding: Hardcover <>Author: SarahWaters <>Publisher: RiverheadBooks
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Sarah Waters is a masterful storyteller, not just because her plots grab you, but because her prose is sublime. I have many reader pals for whom “prose is everything” and they will gobble this treat up like the richest dessert. Suspense like Waters’ takes my breath away, and the quality of writing reminds me why I love to read.
The first third of the novel sets the stage and introduces us to the once happy home in a good area of London where Frances Wray and her mother now live. It’s 1922 and the post-WWI economy has forced them to take in boarders, the “paying guests”. Enter Lillian and Len Barber, a young married couple recently moved out of Len’s parent’s house to rent rooms with the Wrays. Frances is almost immediately attracted to Lillian, and Lillian is unhappy with Len; the stage is illuminated.
The middle third of the novel contains the thrillingly suspenseful commission of several crimes. Here Waters speeds up the action and this reader couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough.
The last third deals with the aftermath of the crimes and is every bit as gripping and suspenseful. As the revelations of this early twentieth century investigation unfold and a trial begins, we have surrendered ourselves completely to Sarah Walters’ bewitching tale.
The author’s characterization of Frances (the protagonist) is probably the most successful thing about the book, and Sarah Waters does a decent job of creating a sense of time and place. Although 1922 London does not leap off the pages of this text, it is clearly established.
“The Paying Guests” held my attention for stretches at a time, I guess that’s a good thing. However, I suspect that this was partly due to the fact that I wanted to move on and read something else.
Would I pick up another novel of Ms. Waters’…I seriously doubt it.
To bring in a little money, they decide to take in paying lodgers. Enter the Barbers, Leonard and his wife Lillian. They turn the Wray house upside down, first just by just the chaos of their being there and then, as the story progresses (Waters writes a great narrative), the story goes from a period drama to love story, to crime drama that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to get to the end. It's the sort of book where you wish you could re-visit the characters 6 months after the story ends.
I was up until 2 a.m. finishing this, something I can say about very few books!
In 1922 London, a mother and adult daughter take in boarders to make ends meet. The boarders are a young married couple, as flamboyant as the landlords are drab. The daughter and wife begin an affair, fall in love, commit a murder, and cover it up. The story is narrated by the daughter.
The bulk of the book focuses on the psychological nuances of love, infidelity, and especially guilt. Other readers have complained about the length of the book and feel that it gets bogged down in the third and final part. I believe that it is purposely detailed and slow moving in an effort to illustrate the main character's anguish and uncertainty. To me, the central questions in the book are how far will you go for love and once you go there, can love survive?
In addition to the main story, the author also does a good job exploring post WWI England. Families have lost sons and husbands, returning soldiers are unemployed and ignored by their country, women's roles are changing, and homosexuality is misunderstood and unacceptable. Some interesting parallels to the present day.
that said, The Paying Guests is a very generous story. as usual, Sarah Waters was able to create a time in history that was accurate to the point, for me anyway, of actually being in this post WW-I town outside of London. it was very sexy and had all the madness of a new romance that can drive many to do things that should not be done.
that said, this would be another one of Sarah Waters’ perfect stories with one exception. the criminal and legal issues were circular and even a bit tedious. because this took over about one third of the book, and at the end, the result was that the excitement and thrall didn’t linger the way i would have liked.
but still it was really great.