The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


I want to love to Sarah Waters’ novels, I really do, but in actuality I don’t. People tell me how wonderful they are, but I do find myself secretly wondering whether they have actually ever finished one. To me, they are like the promises you make at a book club, where readers coo over their favorite parts of a book, but secretly hope that no one asks them anything too taxing. Yes, yes, these novels are beautifully written, have great plotlines and wonderful character development, but actually each novel is a little like wading through treacle. It must be the same treacle that sticks to my fingers, as oddly, I never actually give up on her books. I don’t believe for an instant that with books, once started, you must finish. Books to me are like relationships, you have to enjoy them, remember the good times and when you are ready, move on. You would never go out on a second date, just because someone asked you. To me, almost any novel by Sarah Waters is the equivalent to what I imaging dating Jeff Goldblum must be. Enjoyable, worthy and lacking in pace.

The copy of The Paying Guests that I picked up, quoted USA Today, stating that this was “A fever dream of a novel….”. I had come so close to really enjoying The Little Stranger, an oddly captivating ghost story, that I thought The Paying Guests would be the novel that finally converted me. Sadly, it isn’t, despite such a beautiful descriptor.

The book is, essentially, a lesbian love story. Set in suburban London during the 1920’s, Frances, a spinster and her mother,a widow, finding themselves strapped for cash decide to bring in lodgers. Enter Lillian and her husband, Len. Frances and Lillian begin a friendship which quickly (within the realms of this novel) turns into more. Frances has long since realized that she is attracted to women, but for Lillian this is new and potentially confusing territory. The relationship escalates and, without wishing to give the plot away, a crisis point is reached, that very quickly turns into disaster and the separation of our two main protagonists.

One thing that I must add about this novel and this is tricky, given that I don’t want to give away the denouement of the tale, is that I loved the ending of this book. I actually thought that it was both appropriate and in its own way, quite beautiful and this to me is the confusing thing about Sarah Waters. If there was only more pace, I think that I would be on the very edge of my seat awaiting every new book she has yet to write, but as it stands, I will notice the arrival of a new novel, think about buying it and fail to do so, until in a moment of weakness or hope, I will find myself drawn in.

If I could only keep on Sarah Waters book on my shelf, it wouldn’t be The Paying Guests, it would be The Little Stranger. Fortunately my bookcase is big enough for both.

About nutshellbookreviews

I love to read. I'm the kind of person who walks into a bookstore and can happily browse for hours. This means that the books I review are not necessarily going to be on the best seller list (although they could be), but are more likely just to be modern fiction that I have loved. I've started this blog as a resource for anyone out there struggling to find their next great read. Enjoy and please visit often!

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