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Back on Form: The Paying Guests

The Paying GuestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I was thrilled to win a lovely signed hardback copy of Sarah Waters’ latest novel on Audible’s Twitter account. I have adored Waters’ earlier novels but her last two have left me a little underwhelmed. How would The Paying Guests fare in my opinion?

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned and the out-of-work. In South London 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 passions mount and frustration gathers. No one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

First Impressions: From the first page I felt a huge sense of relief as I could tell that The Paying Guests would be a Sarah Waters’ books that I enjoy. With the writing style it was very easy to find myself lost in the story.

Highlights: I loved the way Waters described the tension and chemistry between people. She turns it into a tangible electricity that can almost be seen like those electrostatic generators (?) in high school science lessons! The plight of the ex-servicemen is also interesting and brought to mind some other 1920s novels I have recently read such as The Burial by Courtney Collins and Bereft by Chris Womersley. More generally, the writing style itself is a highlight in this novel. For instance, when summarising the plot in the first section it is hard to say much more about what  happens other than ‘relationships are formed’. I found it all rather addictive and just kept turning those pages…

If I was an editor: I would be a little disappointed with the final section. The court case is well written about and even feels a bit more circa 1850s than 1920s yet it did feel a bit Wilkie Collins without the sensation. It was a good continuation of the story but I felt Waters’ usual elements of intrigue, revelations and maybe even a comeuppance or two were sadly lacking. Perhaps I have been spoiled in the past.

Overall: Will be enjoyed by many but particularly by Waters connoisseurs.

The Paying Guests: 5 Stars