Tuesday, February 09, 2016

THE PAYING GUESTS






The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters, Riverhead Books, 2014, 564 pp
 
 
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
 
 
My Review:
I like British authors. I am reading many of them in my Big Fat Reading Project. Often their novels have a certain extra something for me, possibly the literary quality, an awareness of the influence of history, as well as a uniquely British way of looking at the world. I read Sarah Water's The Little Stranger, beguiled by reviews and a possible Booker Prize nomination, but I didn't like it much. I had decided not to read The Paying Guests and then one of my reading groups picked it.
 
Reading this novel was a night and day difference from reading the other one. The 564 pages mostly flew by and I became completely engaged with all the characters. The love story between Frances Wray and her lodger Lilian Barber was everything a love story should be.
 
As in The Little Stranger, there is a decaying mansion and its resident family struggling to maintain it. Though no actual ghost inhabits the place, lost family members and past transgressions haunt the remaining mother and daughter to the point of freezing them in time and denying Frances any life of her own. Waters portrays the class differences between the Wrays and the Barbers with a good deal of hilarity.
 
The second half, involving a criminal investigation and court case did drag on too long for me. I think she was trying to build suspense and add some mystery, but waiting to see what would become of the relationship between Frances and Lilian, while it still kept me reading as fast as I could, was more agonizing than suspenseful.
 
Other than that, it is a great read.  
 
  
(The Paying Guests is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.) 

9 comments:

  1. I've read mostly good reviews of this book in the blogosphere. I guess to be "more agonizing than suspenseful" is not always a bad thing.

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  2. Your review is very interesting, although I can't really claim familiarity with this author's work. But like you, I also read a lot of British writers so chances are I'll get around to her.

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    1. When you do, I would recommend starting with this one even though it is her latest.

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  3. I particularly enjoyed the storytelling of this novel. I pretty much fell into their world at the house and was sucked in fairly quickly. Though I too wasn't thrilled by Sarah Waters's book The Night Watch so hadn't planned to read this but then friends said the audiobook was superb and I downloaded it from the library. Very glad I did. It really came to life, even though it went on a bit long. Much better than her other book!

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    1. I agree with you on all counts.

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  4. Hello dear Judy, this book sounds very interesting ;-)

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    1. Let me know if you read it and what you think.

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    2. I haven't read it yet! Sure I will keep you posted when it's done..

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