Published by Hachette on August 26, 2014
Genres: Historical fiction, LGBT+
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.
For 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. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
There are very few authors I follow closely enough to actually, actively, pre-order their books. Sarah Waters is one of them, even though I haven’t quite read all of her books yet. This was my third Waters book and before this I read Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith. Now my main reason for reading her books is: well-written historical fiction about lesbians? Simply cannot resist. And I thought Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith were absolutely brilliant.
So where does that leave The Paying Guests?
Let me begin by saying that Waters’ storytelling is once again absolutely breathtaking. Waters has a way with words and I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever read anything by her can’t help but agree. It doesn’t matter what she is describing. It’s beautiful and it’s a pleasure to read. Whatever Waters describes, I can see vividly happening before my eyes (which is honestly something I have trouble with sometimes, so if an author achieves this: bonus points).
So in that sense, The Paying Guests was once again a pleasure to read.
Still, on the whole, the book disappointed me. As pleasant as it was to read, I kept waiting for a big plot twist or climax and it just wasn’t happening. The story seemed to move from start to finish in the same slow manner. Honestly, at 570+ pages it’s not a small book and that is a long time to be left hanging. Story-wise it just wasn’t delivering. There was one moment in the book where I thought, ah, it’s finally picking up. And then it wasn’t.
No, it wasn’t a bad book, at all. In fact, I am not surprised many people love it and I completely understand that. The descriptions were beautiful. And yes, I really liked the characters, and the setting, and the social context. I liked the way it started and ended. And even what actually happened in the book was interesting… but it lacked speed and it lacked surprise. There was not a single unexpected factor in the story.
I finished the book at the end of August and I still feel like I’m waiting for something that is never going to be.