The Paying Guests; Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books - Sept 2014
Set just outside of London in 1922, The Paying Guests, is a literary thriller which kept me quickly turning its 500+ pages.
Frances Wray is a 26 year old spinster who lives with her 50-something mother in what was once a comfortable life. Now, Mr. Wray is deceased and has left the women in his life with substantial debt. In addition, the economy after WWI has taken a downward turn and mother and daughter have decided to take in boarders to help with expenses and repairs needed on their home. The couple who joins their household are Lilian and Leonard Barber.
By day Leonard works, and Lilian is staying home adjusting to life as a new wife in a new place. Frances and her mother have plenty of adjustments as to make as well, and each walks of fine line as to being friendly to the "paying guests" and giving them the privacy and space they deserve. The lifestyle and manners of the Barbers are a bit of a shock to the system, especially for Mrs. Wray, and at times the two feel very awkward around the Barbers even in their own home.
When Len goes off to work and Mrs. Wray out about town during the day, Lilian and Frances spend time getting to know one another and become confidants. Frances is a lesbian who had recently ended a relationship with a woman because of family obligations. She feels comfortable enough to tell Lilian about this relationship hoping she will not think any less of her. Yet with each new day Frances finds herself attracted to the young woman and she does her best try to go about her daily activities in spite of these feelings.
For the first 200 pages or so the author builds the tension as the reader is getting to know the "paying guests" and how the lives of the Wrays are impacted with their arrival and sharing a home together. The second section ratchets up the tension even more with the turn of each page as Lilian and Frances relationship develops into something more than friendship. The added tension and some shocking violence add to the overall psychological drama. The final section deals with an investigation and trial with an ending that left me satisfied.
Sarah Waters knows how create a suspenseful novel. The time period and characters came alive on the page. I can't say that I liked any of the characters, but I did feel like I was right there watching the happenings firsthand. This is a story has it all - forbidden love, scandal and crime. I was hooked early on and invested until the end. This is sure to make my list of favorites list for 2014 - Read It!
Highly recommended to readers who enjoy finely crafted historical crime fiction.
(review copy )