Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

Reviews of The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests

by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters X
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 576 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2015, 592 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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...continued

Full Review (637 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

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 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 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

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...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Sarah Waters

If you liked The Paying Guests, try these:

  • The Favor jacket

    The Favor

    by Nora Murphy

    Published 2022

    About this book

    A gripping debut domestic suspense novel, Nora Murphy's thrilling The Favor explores with compassion and depth what can happen when women pushed to the limit take matters into their own hands.

  • The Parting Glass jacket

    The Parting Glass

    by Gina Marie Guadagnino

    Published 2020

    About this book

    Devoted maid Mary Ballard's world is built on secrets, and it's about to be ripped apart at the seams, in this lush and evocative debut set in 19th century New York.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, a new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Honor
by Thrity Umrigar
Set in India, a tender and evocative novel about love across a cultural divide, familial devotion and betrayal.
Who Said...

Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.