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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' 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' finest achievement yet.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Loretta R. Cooper on 10-14-14
I had to write my thoughts as a balance to all the rave reviews for this work. Those reviews are the reason I kept trying to get through 'The Paying Guests' In the end, it wasn't worth the time or the credit.
This is a slow, interior moral drama. It takes 8 hours to get to the pivotal conflict and the next five hours are all hand wringing.
I will say that Juliet Stevenson is phenomenal in her narration. But the plot was one dimensional, thin and plodding.
41 of 47 people found this review helpful
By Mel on 12-17-14
Difference of Opinion
Because I am a klutz with crutches, I've had to "stay off that foot", so I've read enough print novels to blister my thumbs and listened to less audiobooks lately. Once I could navigate the 3 floors to my computer, I decided to review only a few of those novels, and that The Paying Guests would be first--with apologies to several GR friends that recommended the book to me. With multiple 5* ratings, an author that "has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction," as well as earned a 3-time Man Booker Shortlist seat, this one has a *triple-dog-dare-you* not to find the novel magical. Well; I didn't, and I take umbrage at novels that sell themselves as one thing, when they textualize something quite different.
This is not historical fiction, not, not, not. There is more feel for post WWI London in the summary than in the novel; there is no sense of the politics of 1920's London, the social atmosphere, the changing economics as Britain began its decline as a world power and women rose to a position of more social power. What Waters did was a trending tactic...take a timely social issue from today and place it in the context of another era in history. I did not say immerse it, because this *issue* sits atop 1920 London like a drop of oil on water. She did not blend in any facts or knowledge that expand on that London. The paying Guests is simply (and more accurately) a lesbian love affair. The lovers are dressed in costume and dropped in London -- there's your hx. Change the costumes...change the historical time...voila! another *historical* novel. The history, what little there is, is foggier than a November morning in London.
This is the third such novel I've read recently, where there is no accurate description, or mention in the summary of the actual content other than: *forbidden love* that will *disrupt* society and families, or in this case: "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' life - or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be." *-sigh-* Haven't we advanced enough socially to just call it what it is?! Just say it...lesbian love affair--or just love affair if you prefer. This is a lesbian love affair set in London sometime after WWI. The history, in the context of this book, seems irrelevant, or at least contrived.
Now, it is a different book to rate and would probably get a better review from me because I had a knowledgeable choice of what I was getting. But putting a fictional love affair in period piece costumes and calling it historical is a ruse and I slash points for that kind of tactic. Good grief, call it what it is and stop blindsiding readers with these tales of !shocking! forbidden love that aren't so shocking or forbidden. I understand such a love affair would be eyebrow raising in any period of history (including 2014 to some people), and if I want to read that, I expect to read that in the summary and make that choice.
So, buy the book if you want to read about a lesbian love affair set in London circa 1920. It is narrated superbly and is an interesting story of two women falling in love during some period is time when it was difficult... It is also an example of attempted sensationalism... (but not history). For a great historical novel I highly recommend Lovers at the Chameleon Club. Perhaps it was reading that superior novel of historical fiction that in comparison, made The Paying Guests seem so vacant.
91 of 107 people found this review helpful