Monday, September 8, 2014

Sarah Waters proves her mastery over the post-WWI creepy relationship story

It's here, it's here!  Sarah Waters' eagerly anticipated new novel, The Paying Guests, hits shelves on the 16th and is sure to skyrocket to the best-seller list pretty much immediately.  I was absolutely thrilled to get an advance copy from LibraryThing.  It took me a while to get through this book because it is pretty long and, well, summer!  But I made it through to the end and I'm confident that if you enjoyed Waters' other novels, you will really enjoy this one.

The Paying Guests is set in post-WWI London.  The economy is not doing well, the class system is starting to break down, and there are many women living without the support of men.  Frances and her mother are two of those women - Frances' two brothers died in the war and her father passed away, too, leaving an old house and a lot of debts behind him.  To make ends meet, Frances and her mother decide to take in lodgers.  Enter Mr. and Mrs. Barber, a working-class couple who seem to embrace a more carefree, Bohemian lifestyle.  But sometimes, their marriage seems just a little bit less happy than they project to the world.  And as Frances spends more time with the couple and gets to know them better, she becomes intimately involved in their lives and can't quite get away.

I really like the cover shown on this one - not only is it in line with the rest of Waters' books, but I love the sinister look of it.  The woman standing in the light, and then a man to the side, watching her in the dark.  It really does evoke the feel of this book, the unease with which the characters approach each other.

If I could liken this book to another, I think the one that comes to mind is Donna Tartt's The Secret History.  I did not really enjoy The Secret History, and I admit that there were several times during The Paying Guests when I got a little tired as well.  It just started to feel so repetitive!  And I applaud Waters for being able to keep upping the ante and the tension for a good 300 pages or so, but GOSH, I got tired of it!  I would say more, except I am pretty sure that I would be accused of putting in spoilers.  But anyway - a lot of this book is about how relationships can evolve and change and backtrack and go in circles, particularly at times of stress.  It felt quite realistic to me, but also quite painful to read.  By the end, I wasn't really a big fan of any of the characters, though I started the book really liking all of them.

What is awesome about this book, though, is Waters' amazing turn of phrase.  Here are some of my favorites:

"Their friendship sometimes struck Frances as being like a piece of soap - like a piece of ancient kitchen soap that had got worn to the shape of her hand, but which had been dropped to the floor so many times it was never quite free of its bits of cinder."

"How well she filled her own skin! She might have been poured generously into it, like treacle."

"You don't think about all the colors when everything's going all right; you'd go mad if you did. But those colors are there, all the same. All the quarrels, and the bits of unkindness. And every so often something happens to put a chip right through; and then you can't NOT think of them."

"It was like a cure, being with Lilian. It made one feel like a piece of wax being cradled in a soft, warm palm."

Note:  I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a review.  This review is based on an advance reader's copy.


  1. I got a little tired in spots reading this one, too. I reviewed it today, and while I liked it, I didn't like it as much as The Little Stranger and Affinity.

  2. I tried reading one of her books, but nah, not for me

  3. I'm really looking forward to reading this - I like you point about how she manages to capture realities: she's a good technical constructor of a book 'world', I think.

  4. Hahahah, I feel like I am the only person in the blogging world who loved this book unreservedly! Your criticisms aren't unfair, but I guess I was just overthrown with the joy of having a new Sarah Waters book to read. I thought even when the plot wasn't quite as tight as some of her past books (Fingersmith!), Waters was still packing quite an emotional punch.

  5. I will read this eventually - famous last words, right? I am not generally as in love with her novels as the rest of the world, but I do love a good WWI novel, so this one is on my radar.

  6. I thought I pre-ordered this, but alas I did not. I am hoping to buy a few books after my birthday and this will definitely be one of them!


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