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The Paying Guests (2014)

by Sarah Waters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,7041913,930 (3.58)245
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.… (more)
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    BookshelfMonstrosity: Intimate friendships between women give rise to scandalous rumors and interpersonal drama in these character-driven historical novels. Although both London-set stories are atmospheric and richly detailed, The Paying Guests opens in the 1920s, Life Mask in the late eighteenth century.… (more)
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» See also 245 mentions

English (189)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (191)
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
Another fantastic, twisted story from Sarah Waters. Wow. There's no predicting where the story will go. I found it to drag a bit in one section but I was too invested to even consider stopping. And I felt on the edge of my seat until the very last word.

There are few authors who can weave a tale like Waters and I'll certainly pick up her next book.

**7/2015 Re-reading and enjoying it just as much as the first time. Maybe a little more.** ( )
  amcheri | May 25, 2021 |
What a cheat: Waters wields her well-fashioned, direct prose with all the discretion of a toddler picking up a firearm, suckering Dear Reader into a 560-page novel by promising an honest-to-God throwback and delivering instead a melodrama cobbled out of the lamest tripe imaginable. About a quarter in it's revealed that this is another novel about repressed sexuality in an older era, which the prose seems to promise a fresh view upon, but it indeed ends up being almost a paint-by-numbers lesbian potboiler. Ever see that tawdry original paperback artwork for The Price of Salt? That's this book. Gracious, this was a waste. It was my first Waters, and I look forward to Fingersmith anyway.
  brendanowicz | May 9, 2021 |
I loved Juliet Stevenson's reading but did not care for the story at all. ( )
  jlweiss | Apr 23, 2021 |
It is 4.5 stars! I hesitate giving 5 stars because it felt long winding at times. Yet, this is certainly my favorite book by Sarah Waters. One can feel her growth as a writer with each one of her books.

The historical background is flawless. It envelopes the reader and transports us to the years just after WWI England, among a people still in grief for the dead, the economic hardships, and the women left behind in a world that had systematically shifted.

But this historical panorama does remain in the background giving a sturdy canvas for the story, yet not overpowering the main plot, which is dense and erotic in the right doses.

Like other reviewers I do agree that it is too long introducing the reader to the main plot, but I want to tell everyone to hang in there, because the story does unravel into an almost thriller with very well developed characters. I love that it defies genre too.

I should add that I listened in audio book with a narration by Juliet Stevenson. Her performance and characterizations were great.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
I feel relieved to have finished this book! For most of the book, I had it in my head that I'd rank it around a 3 . . . but, the ending. Nope, not happy about it. I waded through all the melodrama. "Oh, but for a cup of tea!" All the "woe is me" that whiny Francis could muster because there was enough suspense to offset it whilst I rolled my eyes. Lillian is a terrible person and annoying. I did not like the main characters. I felt sorry for everyone surrounding them. Leonard, especially, the poor chap. I do admit, I did get quite drawn into the story and could not have put it down despite my disdain for the leading ladies and my disappointment in the ultimate conclusion. Ms. Waters did do a fantastic job of compelling the (in my case disgruntled) reader to stick it out to the end. ( )
  mbellucci | Apr 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 189 (next | show all)
"Some novels are so good, so gripping or shattering that they leave you uncertain whether you should have ever started them. You open “The Paying Guests” and immediately surrender to the smooth assuredness of Sarah Waters’s silken prose. Nothing jars. You relax. You turn more pages. You start turning them faster. Before long, you resemble Coleridge’s Wedding-Guest: You cannot choose but read. The book has you in thrall. You will follow Waters and her story anywhere. Yet when that story ends, you find yourself emotionally sucked dry, as much stunned as exhilarated by the power of art."
added by lorax | editWashington Post, Michael Dirda (Sep 10, 2014)
The superbly talented Sarah Waters — three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize — leads her readers into hidden worlds, worlds few of us knew existed. And so it is with The Paying Guests. ..Amid this heart-crushing drama, uncaring London grinds on, a cacophony of “hooves, voices, hurrying steps, the clash and grinding of iron wheels” that threatens to destroy the hopes of summer: an utterly engrossing tale.
Novel tackles big themes but lacks bite...Yet the love story’s progression – to say more would give too much away – is not entirely convincing by the end..Characterisation has a hint of familiarity, as if characters have been derived from Waters’ bank of past creations, and they lose some of their gleam for it, though the story stays emotionally-charged...
The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters' superb, bewitching new novel, is set in 1922 London...My only quibble with The Paying Guests is its length; the last hundred pages or so chronicle a court trial and feel padded, the first time I've ever had that reaction to a Sarah Waters novel. Otherwise, this is a magnificent creation, a book that doubles as a time machine, flinging us back not only to postwar London, but also to our own lost love affairs, the kind that left us breathless — and far too besotted to notice that we had somehow misplaced our moral compass.
This fascinating domestic scenario might have made for an absorbing short novel;... Its pastiche propriety and faux-Edwardian prose (people are forever "colouring" and "crimsoning" and "putting themselves tidy") become irritants; and the novel's descent into melodrama as a murder is committed – and the inspector called – turns this engaging literary endeavour into a tiresome soap opera....Waters's unusual gift for drama and for social satire is squandered on the production of middlebrow entertainment:.. it would be good to see Waters produce something corrective and sharp, in which her authoritative and incisive dramatic style was permitted to be sufficient satisfaction on its own.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Waters, Sarahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stevenson, JulietNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carra, LeopoldoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Defossé, AlainTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Groen, NicoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jong, Sjaak deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leibmann, UteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lyng, HildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mörk, YlvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Versluys, MarijkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Judith Murray,
with thanks and with love
First words
The Barbers had said they would arrive by three.
Many books helped to inform and inspire this one. (Author's Note)
He took the life of the room with him.
When she and Lilian escaped from the house at last, Frances felt as she imagined a fly might feel when, by some miracle, it had managed to prise its limbs free from a strip of sticky paper.
The pavement threw up heat like a griddle; they kept to the shade as much as they could as they made their way down the hill, but it was warm even on the platform of the station, in the bluish dusk of the railway cut.
The crowd was a Saturday-night one. People were heading to theatres, picture-houses, dancing-halls. The men had an oiled-and-varnished look.
The air was soupy with smells: meat, fish, ripe fruit, perspiring bodies.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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.

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Book description
From the bestselling author of "The Little Stranger "and "Fingersmith," an enthralling novel about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London. 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.
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