The Paying Guests
By Sarah Waters
The extraordinary bestselling author, who wrote three astonishing Victorian novels before moving to the 1940s with The Night Watchand The Little Stranger, now turns to the 1920s.Tweet
From Terri in the V-60 Book Group, Devon:
I'm a huge Sarah Waters fan, so I snatched this one up the minute it came to our tiny rural librar. And while it's not my favourite of her books, and my feelings about it are somewhat mixed, overall I found it a fascinating read. I've been thinking a lot about it over the week since I finished it, so it's clearly impacted me more than I realised while I was still reading.
It's a fat book, told at a leisurely pace, so if what you're looking for is a page-turner, this isn't the book you want -- despite the dramatic turn of events part way through. (I won't say what it is for fear of spoiling the plot.) But if you love language and fine prose, and the careful, perfect evocation of a historical period (in this case, London between the wars), then I heartily recommend this one. Waters is definitely a "writer's writer"; it's sheer pleasure to read a book so skillfully crafted. The setting is drab and dreary, yes, but that's in keeping with the tenor of the time period Waters is writing about, and I felt completely immersed in the lives of the characters (some of them sympathetic, and some of them decidedly not).
For me, it helped that I came to the book after reading others about life between the wars (Vera Brittain's "Testament" books, biographies of Brittain and Winifred Holtby, Virginia Nicholson's "Singled Out"), which made Waters' novel particularly resonant. I recommend doing the same for anyone interested in learning more about the lives of women between the wars!
While this wasn't my favourite of Ms. Waters books, it's made a very strong impression on me -- and I suspect I'll want to read it again to take the full measure of it.
The Telford ladies were given this book to read although one of our members had already read it!
Overall, we weren't fully convinced by it and some of our comments are below:
From Cat: "I've almost finished it and can't wait for it to be over. It's about 100 pages too long.
I felt that it was confused about what kind of book it was i.e. Love story, suspense, historical and whilst it could have been a successful mixture of all these aspects, I think it failed to do any of them properly.
I didn't like the Francis character even though I am sure that we were supposed to be sympathetic to her. I felt like she was predatory.
Perhaps when I finish the book my views will change. About 40 pages to go thankfully. "
From Meg: "It started out with so much promise and I was whizzing through, but afraid the second half of the book I found a little slow moving and paint by numbers. In my opinion, the plot was entirely spelled out from the beginning and nothing was left to surprise/captivate the reader. Such a shame as her style was beautiful to begin with. "
From Myra: "I noticed little sign posts to France's secret passions and sexual tastes from the get-go. Her strong, independent nature is hinted at by her contempt for the King and Queen. The rolling of a cigarette hints at a more rebellious, pleasure seeking nature at odds with her introduction as spinster companion to her mother and fastidious house keeper.
Her relationship with Christina and Stevie as described on her first visit challenges social norms and niceties and shows Frances with 'a foot in both camps.' The lesbian menage is heavily trailed at this point in the book and Frances's attraction to women alluded to when she first spots Mrs Barber in her robe and comments on that.
The changing political landscape and women's role in society post war is a key theme and is introduced against the backdrop of Frances's past and inevitable relationship with Mrs Barber.
Although the pace is sedate at the beginning of the book I was anticipating more drama to come than actually materialised."
From Kate: "I found it very difficult to fully engage with this book and ended up slightly resenting the fact that I had to read it in order to review it! Which was a shame as it was so beautifully and descriptively written I felt I had a good image of the characters and the setting. I felt little sympathy for Frances and agree that she came across as predatory and manipulative so had little interest in seeing her 'get the girl' so to speak."
GW was selected as one of the 12 book clubs who will shadow the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015. Our book is The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
We met last week to discuss the book so far. Some members had finished the book and others were still reading it.
GW Book Club: Ruth Cohen
I've read nearlý all Sarah's books, except Affinity, and really liked her as a writer - complexity of relationships, good plotting and excellent research into historical detail and sense of place. But this particular book as far as I've got which is only halfway throuh seems very one dimensional and although she gets the 1920s to some extent, I am getting a bit bored with this concentration on one relationship. The good point I can see is the way she looms at the role of women and sniggering men.
Hasnt really gripped me though it is easy read.
“The Paying Guests” – This is a very long book and it’s a shame because if it was condensed it would have been better. I thought the characters were interesting, but the ending was disappointing and left me feeling “this isn’t right”. The second half of the book was better. - Jenny