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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests

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Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2015.

London 1922. Frances and her mother lost all their male relatives in the war and are left struggling with a big house in Camberwell. They take in lodgers, a young married couple. The author is well known for her tales of gay relationships so it is no surprise when Frances and the young lodger’s wife, Lily, have an affair. But it is a surprise to them. Their passion escalates resulting in a tragedy. When an innocent boy is charged with murder the girls have hard decisions to face. This is a fascinating tale of class, sex and the consequences of a passionate affair. It is tense with an unexpected ending, certainly a page-turner with the backdrop of a dreary London so vividly described; Sarah Waters at her best. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

If you like Sarah Waters you might also like to read books by Susanna Clarke, Iain Pears and Peter Ackroyd.

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. In 1922 Frances Wray and her widowed mother living in genteel but straightened circumstances in their villa in Camberwell are forced to take in lodgers. But, it is not until the larger-than-life Mr and Mrs Barber actually arrive, that the horror of sharing their home, especially a bathroom, with strangers dawns on them. Fascinated by Lillian, Frances hints about her relationship with another woman, and they eventually engage in a passionate liaison. If readers think this is the most exhilarating point of the novel, they are in for a shock, for two tragic and horrifying events in quick succession turn this into an electrifying thriller. This is absolutely vintage Waters!


The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

'There came the splash of water and the rub of heels as Mrs Barber stepped into the tub. After that there was a silence, broken only by the occasional echoey plink of drips from the tap...'Frances had been picturing her lodgers in purely mercenary terms - as something like two great waddling shillings. But this, she thought, was what it really meant to have paying guests: this odd, unintimate proximity, this rather peeled-back moment, where the only thing between herself and a naked Mrs Barber was a few feet of kitchen and a thin scullery door. An image sprang into her head: that round flesh, crimsoning in the heat.' It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers. For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the 'clerk class', the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be. This is vintage Sarah Waters: beautifully described with excruciating tension, real tenderness, believable characters, and surprises. It is above all a wonderful, compelling story.


'Absolutely brilliant' -- Jacqueline Wilson Sunday Times

'A page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change' Guardian

'Waters's page-turning prose conceals great subtlety. Acutely sensitive to social nuance, she keeps us constantly alert ... From a novelist who has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, this is a winner' Intelligent Life (The Economist)

'The novel's remarkable depth of field - from its class-ridden background to its individuals
peccadilloes - is sharply portrayed by an author writing at her best. Waters's 20-20 vision perceives the interior world of her characters with rare acuity in a prose style so smooth it pours down the page in a book to be prized' Scotland on Sunday

'A sumptuously subdued story of making do and getting by after the great war' -- Philip Hensher Guardian

'Brilliantly involving ... juicy, beautifully observed [and] not afraid to be explicit' Metro

About the Author

Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966 and lives in London. She has a Ph.D in English Literature and has lectured for the Open University. She won the Betty Trask Award for Tipping The Velvet and the Somerset Maugham Award and Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year for Affinity. Fingersmith was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize 2002 and for the Man Booker Prize 2002, and won the CWA Historical Dagger prize before earning her three 2003 Author of the Year awards - from the Booksellers Association, Waterstone's and The British Book Awards. Sarah Waters is also the winner of The South Bank Show Award.

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Book Info

Publication date

4th June 2015


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Virago Press Ltd an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group


608 pages


Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners
eBook Favourites

Historical fiction



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