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.
This was our book club choice for July and not having read Waters before I didn’t know what to expect and following our book group discussion I’ve learned that she has a favoured theme that appears in this and other books too (will need to read others to confirm this!).
The Paying Guests is certainly a book of two halves; the first being incredibly slow, over-descriptive and repetitive and I really struggled with the pace meaning it took me a week to get through. However, following a significant event the pace increases and I raced through it in a couple of sittings.
At times I found Frances to be a forward thinker, ahead of her time in not allowing herself to be emotionally constrained by what’s expected of her but then contrastingly she allows herself to basically become her mother’s maid and does exactly what is expected from her. I also found her to be extremely manipulative and determined over Lilian in the first half of the book and I felt the tables were drastically yet subtly turned in the second.
There are some quite racy sex scenes which some readers may not like so there’s ya warning; these reviews describe the book perfectly:
“Pitch perfect…powered by queer longing, defiant identity politics , and lusty, occasionally downright kinky sex” Slate
“…diabloically clever…with one of the hottest sex scenes ever to be set in a scullery” Los Angeles Times
Overall, an interesting read, loved all the historical courtroom drama and the posing of the moral dilemma which made me as a reader question what would I do and how far would I let the situation develop? Definitely recommend and looking forward to reading more from Sarah Waters.
Connect with the author Sarah Waters