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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

 

2

Bizarre City Pulse: Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

I was unsure about this novel: a fantasy novel set in Lagos? With environmental themes? Could I possible enjoy this?

Three disparate strangers meet on a beach in Lagos: Adaora, a marine biologist. Anthony, a famous rapper from Ghana. Agu, a soldier in trouble with his superior.

When a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three will find themselves bound together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars. They must race through Lagos in order to save the city, the world… and themselves.

First Impressions: The first few chapters were well written but I found the plot was a little stilted as the sea creature alien arrived and settled into Adaora’s house. As it is a fantasy novel and this was a vital plot development you sort of just had to go with it and I’m glad I did.

Highlights: There is so much to like about this novel! Never having been to Nigeria, I am guessing that Okorafor has created a perfect representation of Lagos. I wonder if her life in America has provided a good distance in which to make such accurate comments? I laughed to read that Aliens chose to land in Lagos as the corruption would mean they could exist undetected. I later found out that the author started this novel in response to everything she disliked in the South African Film District 9.

Many people talk about London as being an addictive place to live but I had never considered Lagos to have the same pull to its residents; people look for greener pastures but always return. I found all the different Lagosian groups and tensions that Okorafor includes incredibly interesting and naturally written about, particularly the Muslim-Christian anxieties. I have never included quotes in a review before but I think this perfectly sums up daily life for residents of Lagos:

Some blamed the Muslims of the north. Others blamed the Americans. Al-Quaeda. Sickness. The British. Bad luck. Devils. Poverty. Women. Fate. 419. Biafra. The bad roads. The military. Corruption. (page 61).

My favourite character by far was the charlatan charismatic  religious leader Father Oke. I also loved the underground LGBT group from the university; so unexpected yet a perfect addition to this novel. Along with other terms peculiar to Lagos such as ‘Area Boys’ and ‘face me, I face you’ apartments, Pidgin was used successfully in some chapters and I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t understand it all, which really surprised me. Juju and other superstitions are seamlessly integrated into the mindset of many of the characters including Adaora’s businessman husband who believes in the three types of witches: white, physical and marine.

If I was an editor: I would still be a fair-weather fantasy reader and would like the fact the fantasy elements don’t overwhelm the story. There are a few (needed for the plot) chapters with fantasy elements towards the end; any more and I may have begun to lose interest but the author obviously kept a good balance with these elements. It is, after all, a fantasy novel.

Overall: Lagos brought to life.

Lagoon: 5 Stars

Thank you to Bookbridgr for a copy of the novel to review.