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The Paying Guests (2014)

by Sarah Waters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8701913,945 (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)
  1. 20
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  2. 20
    Life Mask by Emma Donoghue (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    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)
Det tog extremt lång tid för mig att läsa den här boken, vilket kan ha dragit ner betyget något. Långsam början, mycket bra mitten och sen tacklade den av mot slutet igen. Waters är aldrig dålig, men detta är inte hennes bästa. ( )
  kattriarkatet | Jun 21, 2022 |
I stopped reading this - it's just not my kind of book. ( )
  Wren73 | Mar 4, 2022 |
Sarah Waters crafts some of the most wonderful love stories I've ever read. She is a master at capturing all the emotional - and physical - ripples that come when you fall for someone. On the other hand, the crime aspect falls flat. I maybe would have liked if the book was a "whydunit" or if there were more twists, like a typical crime story. While the first two thirds is very romantic, the last third deals with the main character's guilt, which is not very engaging or sympathetic. ( )
  doryfish | Jan 29, 2022 |

Camberwell, 1922. Frances Wray and her mother lead a lonely life in a house which has become too big for them, too costly to maintain. The death of Frances's two brothers and her father during the Great War still casts a shadow over the household. To make ends meet, the Wrays have to take in lodgers or "paying guests". Horror of horrors! What will the neighbours say? The arrival of Leonard and Lilian Barber will indeed have far-reaching consequences, very different from those feared by the Wrays...

I have read all Waters's works and none has disappointed me so far. This has come very close. I squarely blame the blurbs on the cover for this. Let's start with the claim that the book is "unputdownable" and "page-turning". Well, the first 200 pages or so were quite soporific. Well-written by all means and definitely finely crafted. But not "unputdownable" in my understanding of the word. In fact, I decided to take a break from the novel, and read two or three others before returning to it.

Things pick up when the relationships (and tensions) between the Wrays and the Barbers develop. But we're still far from the wild ride of "Fingersmith" or "Affinity". In its second and third parts, the novel moves into the crime territory and suddenly Waters builds up the tension. Yes, the novel does become page-turning, but only out of the build-up of curiousity as to how the narrative will wrap up - John Grisham style. Ironically, Lauren Owen's historical vampire novel [b:The Quick|18050175|The Quick|Lauren Owen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1391414209s/18050175.jpg|25332934] (admittedly a very different sort of book) was slated by many critics for exactly these same type of gear/genre changes.

Waters has been praised for her powers of observation and for her use of the "domestic novel" to probe at the social divisions inherent in the world she portrays. One critic compared her to Zola and Flaubert. Yes, the novel is successful from this point of view. But let's not forget that friction between different social classes and communities has been a recurring subject in all her novels. And one might argue that it's more challenging to address such a social theme within the genre strictures of a ghost story (as she did in The Little Stranger) than in a ... social novel about class friction in 1920s London.

A related problem is the fact that, perhaps because of its very genre, the novel contains long sections of dialogue. Waters does a good job at crafting a pastiche of the style of the era - but this makes long passages of the book read as if it were a Downton Abbey script. I preferred the third-person passages, where a striking metaphor or turn of phrase would remind me of why I love reading this author.

Another critic praised Waters for "not being afraid of being explicit". There are indeed some sexually charged scenes, but her most transgressive novel to date is her very first one - Tipping the Velvet. Nothing new here.

So why do I give this novel a decent three stars? Because notwithstanding my doubts about the book, it contains many hallmarks of Waters's style. Because, despite the longueurs and fact that it could have done with some editing, some passages are truly gripping. Because if I hadn't been led to expect a "masterpiece", a "perfect novel" and "Sarah Waters's best novel to date" I might have simply enjoyed it for what it is. ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jan 1, 2022 |
I liked the writing style, but not Francis. ( )
  rosies | Nov 26, 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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