Summary and book reviews of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests

by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 576 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa - a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants - life is about to be transformed as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the "clerk class," the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances's life - or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction, and here she has delivered again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters's finest achievement yet.

One

The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half-past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she'd supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling no sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.

She stood at a window in the largest of the rooms—the room which, until recently, had been her mother's bedroom, but was now to be the Barbers' sitting-room—and stared out at the street. The afternoon was bright but powdery. Flurries of wind sent up puffs of dust from the pavement and the road. The grand houses opposite had a Sunday blankness to them—but then, they had that every ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Waters fans will find the novel's first 300 pages much less plot-driven than any of her previous work; they may, in fact, find themselves utterly bored by the wealth of period detail – especially what can seem like endless descriptions of Frances's chores. Still, Waters's skill at evoking historical time periods is peerless, and once again she delivers romantic relationships with a powerfully erotic charge. The first half may drag somewhat, but you will simply not be able to turn the pages fast enough through the second.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (637 words).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

Moody and atmospheric, this latest from three-time Booker Prize finalist Waters (The Little Stranger) has a rich historical setting…[and] keeps you guessing until the very end.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Readers of Waters's previous novels know that she brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places… [She] deserves a large audience.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight…until the last page, the reader will have no idea what's going to happen. Waters keeps getting better, if that's even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.

The Independent (UK)

Waters excels at presenting the raw inferiority of a quietly heroic woman, slightly too ahead of her time… a poignant love story which symbolically sees in the death of the old order, the death of the old-fashioned husband and maybe the birth of an era of love without secrets.

The Guardian (UK)

Waters has become a virtuoso historical novelist… a page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change.

The Evening Standard (UK)

A masterpiece of social unease… so compellingly readable, that the temptation to finish the 500-odd pages of Waters’s novel at a sitting is powerful… a virtuoso feat of storytelling.

The Daily Express (UK)

Riveting, [Waters’] best yet…It will be an injustice if it doesn’t win one of the main literary prizes.

The Sunday Express (UK)

A triumph: spellbinding, profound and almost problematically addictive… Waters is so powerful a narrator, so in command of her material as she twists, defies and confronts without using cheap tricks, that she could make us believe anything… Morally complex, atmospheric, romantic and psychologically deep, The Paying Guests is an astonishing achievement… a beautiful and brilliant work by a consummate storyteller.

Reader Reviews

Roe P

Better than I ever expected
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters was not what I was expecting when I picked it up...but soon after I started reading I found it to be much better than I thought. Ms. Waters writes a compelling story..but what really sets this book apart is that ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sarah Waters' Literary Influences

Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests belongs to an unusual mixture of genres. Here is a partial pedigree of the literary influences on its style and content:

First Half

  • Postwar novels
    As in the novels of Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Taylor, Waters shows how the interwar period was a crossroads for women, with barriers of sex and class becoming less rigid. In the tradition of those female realist writers, she "use[s] the domestic novel to grapple with the intricacies of a broken civilization and the reconfiguring of gender and social roles it entails." (Rachel Cusk's review for The Guardian.) Cusk goes so far as to call The Paying Guests a pastiche, with Frances "a kind of riddling Bowen-esque heroine."

  • Edwardian class studies
    There are...

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