ISBN-13: 9780349004587
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. 
10 Responses
  1. Sandy Nawrot Says:

    Yeah, I've heard that it needed some editing. I do have the book, but am dragging my feet a little hoping that the audio comes out soon. And seriously, if you have not read Fingersmith, then stop everything and do it! It is by far her best book.

  2. I haven't heard too much about The Paying Guests, but the premise has me interested. I am reading Fingersmith at the moment (just started last night so am not too far in). It'll be my first by Waters.

  3. Melody Says:

    Sandy - I look forward to your thoughts, Sandy. Yes, I need to read Fingersmith after hearing so many great things about it.

  4. Melody Says:

    Wendy - It has a great premise. I was still thinking about it even I'd finished the book. As I mentioned to Sandy, I need to read Fingersmith. Seems like everyone is loving it. Looking forward to your thoughts. :)

  5. Anonymous Says:

    It's possible I could be biased because I have been craving the new Sarah Waters book for so long, but I LOVED The Paying Guests. It's not quite as good as Fingersmith, which is beautifully structured as well as beautifully written, but I loved it a lot anyway.

  6. Melody Says:

    Jenny - Yes, I'm hoping Sarah Waters will have her new books out quickly. At this moment I'm trying to dig out her other releases which I've yet to read, with Fingersmith being the top of the list.

  7. jenclair Says:

    I keep seeing the title popping up. I've only read The Little Stranger, and was of somewhat two minds about it. The class issue was prominent and the suspense palpable, but the ambiguity was a challenge. Very open-ended because the narrator is unreliable.

    I like the way you reviewed this one--it sparks my curiosity.

  8. Melody Says:

    Jenclair - I'm curious about The Little Stranger. I know there have been mixed reviews about this one so I'm curious to find out. Plus, it's Waters book and of course I need to read it. I also like the idea of unreliable narrator; I definitely have no issue over this. I find it more intriguing.

    I'm curious to know about your thoughts about this one. I hope you'll enjoy it if you do read it.

  9. jenclair Says:

    It isn't that I don't like an unreliable narrator, some of my favorite books have one. Maybe part of my problem is that I simply didn't like the characters enough to care what happened. The atmosphere was great, very suspenseful, but I had trouble being too concerned about what happened to the characters. I'm eager to hear what you think if you read The Little Stranger.

  10. Melody Says:

    Jenclair - I understand what you mean about not liking the characters to care about them. I've the same feelings on some books too.

    Now I really look forward to reading The Little Stranger, and Fingersmith too. The only problem is I don't know which to read first. :P

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