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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Paying Guests

Publisher: Riverhead
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 21 hrs and 28 mins
Publication Date: 09/16/2014
Format: Audio
My Rating: 3 Stars
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.

My Review

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters' latest novel is a complex historical fiction with twists of gripping psychological narrative of love, crime, and drama.
Set in England, postwar in 1922, as a background two brothers are killed in WWI and debt-ridden father followed soon after. Leading a former upper class life, in an upscale South London neighborhood the mother and her twenty-seven year old spinster, former activist daughter, Frances are left with no other choice but to take in (guests), boarders or lodgers, in order to maintain the grand house and its upkeep. The servants are gone, as is the wealth and money. It is left up to these ladies to pay the bills with limited resources.
As anyone would know, it is difficult to lead separate lives from your boarders as they are always in the house with their presence, as they become disruptive to the normal schedule or become part of the family unit.
The tenants, a young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber take up the upper floor. (they become a little of both) They are not the type of people the mother and daughter would typically associate with, as a lower class.
They begin to become disruptive to the household, and Leonard often says off-color things, and Frances begins to observe some tensions in the couple’s relationship. While Leonard is at work as an insurance clerk, Frances develops an attraction to beautiful Lily, and soon they develop a mutual attraction.
As the lesbian couple’s love affair grows, a dangerous situation develops. Lost in their passion, they began planning and scheming to be together. An accidental murder is committed and an innocent man is arrested for the crime, the two women are face to face, with a horrible moral crisis, fearful; full of guilt and shame, instead of the freedom they so desired.
A murder investigation and trial begins, full of gripping emotion with a very slow pace which drags out. It was rather boring and bland, and to be honest did not hold my attention. The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lily, with the cat and mouse game, desperate, tempting and teasing, sexual tension, deciding if they feel the same way about one another.
When they do, the tension and lust heat up, they plan ways to be together in the house as their affair continues. The second half is about the act of violence, the crime, the investigation, and the fallout.
I think the book had some good parts, with the historical and social aspects, the romance, the crime with some good writing and suspense; however, I wanted to fast forward, as the voice was so slow; it appeared as whining and repeating. I read at such a fast pace, I get impatient if a book drags, as have so many ARCs to read. A book has to capture me. This was my first book by Waters, so did not have the prior books to compare to.
This is a very complex and rather intriguing book to read and to review (you have to read it to understand). Possibly because I was listening to the audiobook and caught myself rewinding (to catch something I missed, and wanting to fast forward to get on with it – overall frustrating).
Not sure if it was the narrator, the sinister and dark part of the novel, or just the slow dragging pace. I have read positive and negative reviews, so will make it middle of the road. Recommend reading the book versus the audio version.






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