The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters Review


The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Paying Guests

It was with keen anticipation that I received the new Sarah Waters novel. I have read all her previous books and been lucky enough to meet her and hear her read from them at the brilliant (now defunct LGBT Book event in York).

This book didn’t disappoint. I remember some people weren’t too keen on the ‘Little Stranger’ and it would certainly appear Ms Waters is back on great form with ‘The Paying Guests’.

The book is set in 1922, just after the end of the First World War. As always Sarah has chosen a great period in our history in which to base the story. Given that it was a time of change for women, the men were at war and the women were given a lot of new roles and therefore their lifestyle changed dramatically. I was unaware that once the men returned home the dynamic had changed. I hadn’t ever thought before of the effect this had on the men.

The consequences of the war are of course hugely far reaching, families suffered financially. Sarah looked at this in her last book ‘The Little Stranger’. She also looks at it not just through the eyes of the people but also the changes within the home, the house is of great import in both books, as with the Ayres in her last book the Wray’s must consider ways in which they can keep their home; A once buzzing house; but having lost her two brothers in the war and her father dying shortly afterwards they do not have the funds they once had with which to keep the house in the manor it required. They decide to advertise for ‘paying guests’.

The book begins with the couple ‘The Barbers’ arriving at the house. The amazing thing about Sarah’s work is the detail; you are literally in the house with them. You can picture the house and its contents from Sarah’s brilliant writing style. Even now a few days after I have finished the book I can still picture it clearly in my mind. As you can imagine things do not go smoothly. You are led on a dangerous journey which involves Franny and Mrs. Barber, whom we later get to know as Lily. It’s a real page turner, as always, you hear yourself crying out for them not to take certain paths but to no avail and read on to see where it leads them.

There are a lot of themes running through the book, the class distinction is clear from the start from the décor of their new lodgers rooms, to the way they behave, it’s all conveyed expertly.

It is a slow burner. It took me a while to get into it but once you are you can really feel the thoughts as they tick along in the characters brains. It’s far from a joyous read but it keeps you guessing up until the very last pages.

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