The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests

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Because the lid is so tamped down on the love story at the center of this novel, their is a racy feel to Sarah Water's sixth novel.  The time is just post World War I, when the reality of the returning and not returning troops upsets the old norms.  

Frances lives with her mother in a house that is too large and expensive with the men all gone, so they arrange to take in boarders.  The polite terminology, to keep up the illusion of society tiers, is to refer to the lodgers as "paying guests." 

Frances has already chafed at the limited expectations for women long before the Barbers move in to their second floor.  Frances' relationship with the Barbers flexes and tenses in unexpected ways as they all get to know each other.  Waters gift for language draws in the reader and builds suspense where there might not be any with a less skilled writer. 

And that was all it took. They smiled at each other across the table, and some sort of shift occurred between them. There was a quickening, a livening—Frances could think of nothing to compare it with save some culinary process. It was like the white of an egg growing pearly in hot water, a milk sauce thickening in a pan. It was as subtle and tangible as that.
— The Paying Guests

Once a crime is committed the tension is palatable.  And, despite it's length (500+ pages), you may be sad when the book is done.   There is a bit of history here that echoes modern times that should make for rousing book club discussions.  

About the Author
Sarah Waters was born in Wales.  She has a Ph.D. in English Literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University.
     She has written five novels: Tipping the Velvet (1998), which won the Betty Trask Award; Affinity (1999), which won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday / John Llewellyn Rhys Prize;Fingersmith (2002), which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and won the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger; The Night Watch (2006), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize; and The Little Stranger (2009), which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the South Bank Show Literature Award.

About Lori Theisen

Lori Theisen is a co-founder and managing editor of The Literary Cafe. A journalism major before she got swept up into the world of corporate marketing, she always wanted to indulge her passion of books, culture and food.