Friday, 24 October 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Audio version (read by Juliette Stevenson)

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore. (

What we thought: Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I LOVED this book. One of the times when you felt bereft as you neared the conclusion and so slowed your pace to make it last longer. Those kind of books don’t come round too often for me.

I chose the audio version of the book and I am glad I did. Juliet Stevenson’s remarkable narration really added an extra layer of depth for me.

I deliberately knew nothing, read nothing, about this novel before I began. I didn’t know if it had the spooky tone of The Little Stranger, or the charismatic bluntness of The Night Watch. In the end, it somehow managed to carry an essence of both.

Frances Wray, and her mother, are gentile class folk, struggling to cope in the hardship of London post World War I. The deceased father left a mountain of debt upon his death, and after losing their servants, Frances finds herself taking over the upkeep on her house. Still, debts mount, and to try to balance the books, this story opens with the introduction of the ‘paying guests’ Mr and Mrs Leonard Barber.

It’s pretty impossible to say too much about the development of the story without giving away the crucial points and it would be a shame to do that and spoil the reader’s enjoyment. Suffice to say that the arrangement soon becomes complex, the characters are all involved in life-changing circumstances, and once the tension and emotion takes hold, the book changes gear from a slow burner into a rollercoaster of a ride.

Totally gripping. Totally realistic. Totally genuine. And as ever perfect writing of that period. I am a huge fan of Sarah Waters and I put this up alongside The Little Stranger as her best work to date. One not to miss.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Any of Sarah Waters’ previous works. I struggle to compare.

Avoid if you don’t like: Betrayal, love and guilt.

Ideal accompaniments: Toasted currant loaf and milky hot chocolate.

Genre: Literary Fiction.

Available from Amazon

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