The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters (2014)


Sarah Waters’ historical fiction The Paying Guests is a romance, a family saga, a suspense and a social rights novel all rolled into one – which explains the density of the novel (564 pages). Telling the story of Mrs and Miss Wray, and their lodgers, Mr and Mrs Barber, in 1922, The Paying Guests refers to the polite way that the friends of poor gentry refer to lodgers, to avoid embarrassing the widow and her suffragette daughter. When the Barbers move into the Wrays’ home, there is the struggle of getting used to living together, while Francis Wray and Lillian Barber begin a friendship, brought together by proximity. I felt that the story was a beautiful read, and Waters created a fantastically restrained post WWI world, so descriptive that the reader feels engrossed. Where I feel the story falters is in all that description, there are too many storylines – the love story OR the suspense would have been more than adequate, but with those elements, and the descriptiveness, and the discussion of social classes, the reader may begin to feel that the book becomes drawn out and occasionally repetitive. That said, I feel that the book is well worth the read, so long as one enjoys thick books. 
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