Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Title: The Paying Guests
Author: Sarah Waters
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Digital Copy
Content Alert: violence and hot sex

It's 1922 and the Wrays, mother and twentysomething daughter Frances, have finally come to terms with the fact that they can't afford to live in their home, on the outskirts of London, unless someone else helps pay. Enter Leonard and Lilian Barber, the young couple who rent a few rooms on the upper floor. While the Wrays and the Barbers initially seem to have a friendly relationship that goes no further than landlord and lodger, soon the families find themselves almost irrevocably intertwined.

The first third of The Paying Guests reads like a well-written literary/historical novel. Readers come to understand the mores of the Wray's society, and the reasons why they're forced to take in lodgers (basically, all the men in the family died). Waters does a beautiful job recreating London in 1922, complete with the disabled veterans, the men who returned from the war, and the women who had a degree of freedom and have found themselves displaced. The second third of the novel is, in a word, hot. One of the lodgers and one of the landladies (if you've read any of Waters's other novels, you probably can guess which ones) get together, and wow-ee, sparks fly. Then a crime takes place at the cusp of the third third of the novel, and the book becomes something of a police procedural. While I was delighted by the first third, and entertained by the second third, I found the last third totally boring. The Paying Guests lost all its sparkle, and I can't envision a happily ever after for these characters, no matter what Waters's characters pledge in the final pages.

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