13 September 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A book written by Sarah Waters is something to look forward to and I have been counting down the days until the release of her latest.  Due to construction I was sent to work at another branch of the library for one week and had to play with the pick-up location of my hold so it would find its way to me.  Once I knew the book was in transit I went through the courier bins like a squirrel looking for a long-buried nut.  You should have seen my face when I spotted the shiny new copy - oh joy, oh bliss!  Since The Paying Guests is hot off the press I won't share much in the way of plot but did want to share just a teensy bit of the atmosphere and to sing its praises.

It's 1922 and all begins innocently enough with Frances Wray and her mother watching the clock in anticipation of the arrival of new lodgers to their home just outside of London.  Mr Wray has died leaving a trail of debt and his two male heirs were killed while serving in World War I.  The lure of employment at the munitions factory has cost the ladies their domestic help further widening the gaping hole in this family.  Rather than sell up, Mrs Wray and Frances decide to let the upstairs of their home but this means upheaval and they are quite anxious about what will happen to their quiet way of life.  

The Barbers are a young married couple, respectable enough, but it's the little things that soon show a relaxed nature which make Mrs Wray stiffen slightly, such as Leonard's bare feet in her kitchen as he makes his way to the yard for the WC or music and visitors well into the evening.  Lilian's rather bohemian decorating style is cause for concern that the rooms now look...'like something from a Piccadilly backstreet'...but what can they do?  Frances and her mother need the income.

Part one of the book depicts the blending of these four people within the confines of the terraced house they now share and class structure is deftly portrayed.  Anyone who has stayed with an acquaintance knows exactly how it feels to be welcome but still feel a bit in the way.  Once again, as in The Little Stranger, not only does the house feature as a character but the staircase carries an overwhelming presence.  The weight of a foot on the tread or the speed of a stride is carefully calculated by the listener to anticipate mood...or warn of approach.

Sarah Waters exhibits great patience in the lead-up to some rather heart-pounding incidents in the second part of this book.  Just when I was thinking 'okay, Sarah, what do you have up your sleeve?' she literally made me feel ill with the tension and detail of one crime, perhaps two, depending on your view of things.  Over the course of two nights, while I read in the dark, the wind was howling, whipping the curtains around my head, exquisitely ramping up the atmosphere.  You know the feeling when you wake up from a bad dream, think it was real, and then sigh with relief when you realize there is nothing to fear?  Well, I felt like that the morning after as the writing is so vivid that I felt right there in the house, in the midst of things, and it was more than a bit unsettling.

You won't be able to put down The Paying Guests once you get started so clear your social calendar.  Don't read this book on the bus or train unless you have someone to remind you that your stop is up next.  Steel yourself, you are in for the ride of your life...well, as far as reading goes...and I hope you have a strong stomach because you are going to need it.  This book WILL leave a mark.

   

15 comments:

  1. Excellent review, Darlene! I can't wait to read it.

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    1. And I can't wait to see what you think!

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  2. I've never read Sarah Waters but, based on your review, I'll give her a go!

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    1. Lucky you to have a list of fabulous titles to choose from but how did you resist all of the buzz about The Little Stranger a couple of years ago?! Put her on your list!

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  3. Oh, Darlene, you Are naughty! It's not yet out here--roll on Sept 16! I'm jealous. ;) I hope you are in a comfy chair right now with a hot cup of tea, a scone and your book-Reading!

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    1. Haha! Well I look forward to your thoughts once you read the book and mark my words...you'll go through it like a hot knife through butter! My guess is that you'll be posting something in no less than a fortnight. And don't mention scones! I haven't had one in a whole year since going wheat-free *sigh*.

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  4. Excellent review -- I've just finished this myself and agree with every word -- except "rather heart-pounding" - it's the rather I disagree with as I actually had to stop reading the book in bed at night because I couldn't sleep from the agony of what was happening. Yes, strong stomach essential, but how beautifully she writes.

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    1. Oh Harriet, at one point I looked at the print and thought 'how does she do it - it's just plain English'. Not to put pressure on the woman but she really is so masterful at creating tension and atmosphere. If not for the dog beside me and my husband downstairs my night-time reading might have been a cosy Dorothy Whipple so I completely understand!

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  5. I'm number nine in my library's queue, and you have me even more impatient than I was to read it. But I have Thornyhold to distract me for now, and I thought of you when I read of the cram Aga in the heroine's kitchen ....

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    1. My library just so happens to have purchased nine copies so fingers crossed your system has several on offer and the wait is short, Jane! As for the Aga...you know me so well and that is very, very nice.

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  6. My copy is on its way - so I won't read your review yet.

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  7. Oh good...I will be checking in with you later!

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  8. Very much looking forward to reading this -- her books have never disappointed!

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    1. You are going to love this book, Vicki! I've never read Affinity but everything else has been wickedly fantastic!

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  9. Lovely, enticing review, Darlene - lucky that I've already read it so that I don't feel I need to dash out in the middle of the night to get a copy!

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