Publisher: Virago Press
Publication Date: 28 August 2014
Format: Trade Paperback, 576 pgs
Source: Personal Library
I've only read one book by Sarah Waters - Tipping the Velvet, and loved it. There's something about her writing that feels magical to me, and I couldn't help but feel entranced by her story. I've a few of her other books on my shelves but haven't got around to reading them. Then her latest release, The Paying Guests, hit the shelves and I thought this time round I'd get to it.
Without revealing too much, all I can say is this story is character-driven as well as plot-driven. The setting is 1920s Britain; WWI had ended and the British are trying to pick up their life after the war. Though still somewhat affected by the aftermath of the war, they too, welcomed the emerging of the new world where it'd bring them great promise and modernity.
Frances, our protagonist in her mid 20s, lives with her mother. Her two brothers died from the war and her father had passed on thereafter, leaving them with debts. To make ends meet, they decided to take in lodgers, or "paying guests." Her boring and mundane life took on a turn after the young Barbers couple's arrival and things are never the same, again. And that's about all I can tell you, for any more information I'd risk spoiling it.
Once again, I was captivated by Sarah Waters' superb storytelling and her characterisations. She has a knack of writing unforgettable female protagonists, no matter you like them or not. Frances gave me the impression of an open minded and independent female. The Barbers couple seem like any other married couple who have their ups and downs. As for Frances' mother, she is kind and conservative and I liked her well enough.
Although this story is set in post WWI London, there's not too much of the history being covered but is more of a backdrop to the story. Readers would read about the differences of classes during that period but they are not overly elaborated. For these two subjects I felt a bit disappointed because I'd like to read more about them but alas, I suppose the plot is the main focus and another thing is, Ms. Waters is good in describing events with exceptional vividness so that took my mind off of that little disappointment.
As much as I enjoyed the story, I felt something is lacking but I just couldn't put my finger on it. Ms. Waters' prose is lovely, but I think there are times I felt it drags a little, especially the first part of the story. However, once we are familiarise with the characters' and know where the story is leading, the pace quickens and I couldn't wait to finish it.
So, did I like the book? Yes, but not well enough like Tipping the Velvet. I can't say I loved the characters, but they do left an impression on me. And finally, I think this is a book fits for a good discussion.