Ever since I picked up The Little Stranger back in 2011 I've been under Sarah Waters's spell. I practically bent over backwards to snag a copy of The Paying Guests from Penguin's First Look program (for review consideration), and I'm certainly glad I went the extra mile.
Set in London, 1922, Frances and her mother are dealing with a mountain of debt after her father's death. Both of her brothers were lost in the war, so Frances takes over the lion's share of household chores and bookkeeping. The duo decides to take on lodgers--or "paying guests" to be PC--in order to stay on top of their debt. Leonard and Lilian Barber, the young couple who rent the rooms, are a bit brash and representative of an emerging "clerk class". It's awkward for everyone at the start, but soon, relationships begin to grow among the residents of the house.
The first half of the book is devoted to everyone getting to know each other. The latter half of the book takes a starkly different and ominous turn. I won't say more than that to avoid spoilers, but there was a deliciously menacing mood throughout the first half of the book and an almost claustrophobic sense of dread and panic in the latter.
What I love most about Waters's writing is the detail. If you've read her work before, you know her books can be a bit slow. That's not a criticism, as I love spending time with her characters, and there's a palpable sense of time and place in her work.
While this book takes a lot of her consistent themes into account--class shifts, LGBTQ issues, personal responsibility and decision making--I also felt this novel was a bit of a departure from some of her other work. While I did enjoy it overall, I felt the end was lacking a little something. It seemed to end quickly and a little too neatly.
If you're new to Waters's work, I would probably urge you to start with The Little Stranger or, from what I've heard, Fingersmith. However, this is an enjoyable book, and you should definitely give it a go, especially if you're already accustomed to Waters's style.
Pub. Date: September 16, 2014