Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I received and Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book through the Penguin First To Read site.

The Paying GuestsWhen I write a review I like to give a bit of a summary to allow my readers to judge whether or not they would enjoy the setting and the characters of a book.  THE PAYING GUESTS is hard to give a summary for without giving away the plot, so I will be a little more vague than I usually am with my comments.  This is a very emotional read and makes the reader think about various social issues that are still controversial in the world today.

Frances Wray and her mother live in London in the early 1920’s in a large house but are barely making ends meet.  Both of Frances’ brothers died in World War I and her father succumbed to apoplexy shortly thereafter.  As a way to bring in more income, Frances and her mother decide to rent out the second floor of their house to tenants.  This decision to open their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber, drastically changes all of their lives forever.  Frances is ashamed that she has to rent out her house to strangers, so she calls them “paying guests” to make herself feel better about the situation.

THE PAYING GUESTS  reminds us that just because the Great War had ended, doesn’t mean that people weren’t still suffering from its far-reaching consequences.  Many families, like Frances’, had multiple men, fathers, brothers, cousins, that were lost in battle.  The women who are left behind are forced to pick up the emotional and financial pieces of their broken lives.  Many of the men who were lucky enough to return home after the war are injured physically and emotionally and have a hard time finding employment.

Some of the themes that Sarah Waters explores in this novel are bold and just as relevant and controversial in the 21st century as they were in the 20th century.  People are constantly trying to conform to what they think are acceptable norms in society.   With whom are we ever truly ourselves?  Do we put on different personas and acts for different types of relationships?  This book makes us realize that when people are not allowed to be themselves, it forces them to do things they would not under ordinary circumstances. two major issues with the book were with the third part.  The first two parts of the book we

The two major issues that I had with the book occurred in the third part.  The first two parts were page-turners and there were so many unexpected plot turns.  However, I felt that the story became much slower in the third part and the book could have been about 150 pages shorter.  The author chose such controversial themes to explore and provided us with brave and courageous female characters.  The ending, however, did not match the audacity of the rest of the novel.

Despite my issues with the last third of the book, I still think that THE PAYING GUESTS is worth a read if you like historical fiction set in the 1920’s.  Maybe others won’t mind the ending.  If you read this book let me know what you think in the comments.



Filed under Historical Fiction, World War I

6 responses to “Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

  1. I’ve been debating reading this book and I think, after reading your review, I’ll check it out when it’s available at the library. I’ve heard so many great things about Sarah Waters but I have heard that this is not her best work. Have you read anything else by her?


  2. I liked the first 400 pages of it. The story was so interesting right until the very end. The story was so strong that the weak ending was a let down. Put it is definitely worth a read.


  3. The ending really bugged me too. I thought it was a slow start and weak end, but the bits in between were marvelous. I loved her discussions on class. It has really informed the way I understand class as a foreigner living in the UK.


  4. Thanks so much for your comment! I truly loved the first 400 pages of the book and it contained so many important social issues and was a great read. But the ending seemed like she either wasn’t sure how to end it or hurried it along.


  5. This sounds a lot like my experience with Waters’ Fingersmith. I loved the modern issues she dealt with and I loved the twists and turns of the first part of the book, but the end slowed down a lot. I did still enjoy it though, so I might check this one out 🙂


  6. I am wondering now what her other books are like. Thanks for the suggestion. This one is definitely still worth the read. I was riveted for the first 400 pages, I just wish it ended better. If you read it let me know what you think about the ending!


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