The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Back cover blurb: 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.
I was a latecomer to the joys of Sarah Waters' novels. Something which grieves me greatly for she had already written two masterpieces before I discovered her work.
The Paying Guests is Waters at her best. Brilliant, believable (and sometimes wretched) characters amongst sumptuous backdrops.
Frances Wray and her mother have fallen upon hard times. After losing two brothers in the Great War and her Father leaving behind a large amount of debt, Frances is forced to taking in 'lodgers' to help her and her mother pay their bills.
These lodgers or 'paying guests' as the Wray's would prefer they be known are no ordinary couple. One of the first of the upcoming 'clerk' class, they symbolise a new world which both Frances and her mother are decidely unsure about.
Leonard and Lillian Barber make themselves at home with surprising ease, surprising that is to the Wrays. Frances' mother is still getting used to the idea that Frances herself does the housework as they can no longer afford to pay someone to come in and do it for them, so you can imagine her stance on the paying guests...
Frances is a little more wordly wise, but even she is shocked by Leonard's forthcoming nature when she converses with him in the hallway or the kitchen (he is a cheeky man, full of fun and innuendo), and what she at first sees as Lillian's vanity (why else would she be bathing at 10am on a Monday morning).
But Frances is soon taken in and her head turned by her lodgers, for they offer her a world away from that which has been accustomed to. They offer fun, frivololity and an escape from her mother (and the housework). As Len goes off to work each day, Frances and Lily become fast friends, and Frances begins to confide in Lily as she never has with anyone before.
But can she trust her new friend, or is she setting herself up for a fall? Of course, you will have to read to find out. Fans of Sarah Waters' previous work could probably have a good guess at what might happen, but even they may be shocked by a dramatic and violent event that changes everything...
The Paying Guests is available to buy now from Amazon online and all good book shops.