I’ve never read a book by Sarah Waters before, but I judged a book by its cover (intriguing illustration plus awards has to be a good thing) and thought I would like The Paying Guests. I wasn’t wrong.
In London in 1922, Mrs Wray, a once-comfortably-off widow and her spinster daughter, Frances, are struggling financially. Frances is doing all the ‘servant’ work around the house, much to the surprise of the neighbours and tradesmen, but they’re still finding it hard to get by. So they’re forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet – Mr and Mrs Barber, a young couple of the new ‘clerk class’.
The Barbers are quite unlike the Wrays and their friends – bringing colour, noise, music and a lot more into the house. Life for Frances and her mother will never be the same again.
I can’t give too much away, as it would spoil the story, which unravels slowly, yet somehow isn’t slow. Gradually we learn more about Frances and what makes her tick and more about the Barbers.
This is both a love story and a crime story. At nearly 600 pages, it is a hefty book, but not once did I get bored. It is a brilliant read and I will definitely be looking out for some of Sarah Waters’ other novels.