Review | The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

3/5 stars. Overall I enjoyed this tale of forbidden love and crime set in a wonderfully detailed recreation of 1920s’ London. However, bagginess and uneven pacing stop it being a 4 or 5-star read.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Those looking for a page-turner from the opening lines be warned: you have to commit to this book and stick with it. The drama doesn’t kick in until around page 200 and things don’t really get gripping until page 300 – half way through the book. The “critical event” is followed by a page-turning section which lasts up to around page 500, where things tail off into needless repetition. I had to resist skipping ahead to the end 100 pages later.

I think my enjoyment of the book was also hampered by a lack of connection with either of the main characters, Frances and Lillian, who I started to find irritating and over-dramatic. I was more drawn to the book’s fantastic secondary characters: I loved Lillian’s boisterous family and would have liked to learn more about Frances’ mother. The rather snobby neighbours are also wonderful and the Victorian house is a character all in itself, with its creaking floorboards, dragon-like boiler and crumbling walls.

For me, the book’s greatest achievement was the recreation of a time and mood. The lingering grief, disappointments and frustrations of post-war Britain (particularly for women) can be felt throughout. Shame the same couldn’t be said for my interest. 😦

The blurb: 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.

 Claire Huston / Art and Soul

10 thoughts on “Review | The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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