[455]: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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GOODREADS SUMMARY | McClelland & Stewart | Hardcover, 576 pages
Publication Date: September 16th, 2014 | Adult Fiction | Historical | Mystery
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


The literary world is a vast universe I’ve only began to explore. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon Sarah Waters’ latest via a recommendation from one of the ladies at my bookstore. I wasn’t familiar with the author and her work, and much to my delight, I found out that Sarah Waters has the corner on a specific arch: lesbian protagonists in an historical setting. I’m ashamed to admit that this is my very first read featuring a lesbian relationship, considering that I’ve read my fair share of gay lit featuring two males.

More and more, I’m learning that if I read up on an author’s background, it helps understand why they chose a specific niche. Sarah Waters’ background on lesbians and gay in historical fictions inspired ย the characters in her books. However, I’ve yet to read other books for which she’s known for (Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet), but I was able to have to taste of it in this novel.

This one follows the story of Frances; a woman who had to be at the helm of what’s left of the family fortune.ย  Her brothers were both killed in the war; closely followed by the death of her father, leaving her to care for her mother and a house in a state of disrepair. As they learned that her father lost just about everything to failed ventures, Frances and her mother decided to take on borders (or paying guests) to alleviate the financial stress. This was how they met Lillian and Leonard Barber, the childless married couple who would be the subject of Frances’ great curiousity, and would spearhead a tumult of chaos in what used to be a peaceful life.

Frances didn’t expect to experience such great attraction to Lillian, but the lonely homemaker found what her husband lacked in Frances. I suppose if I’d to dive deeper into her psyche, I’d say that Frances offered refinement, and gentle love as oppose to Leonard’s exuberance. What started out as friendship and easy companionship evolved into a clandestine affair between the two women. To read such a relationship in that era and how women dealt with the condemnation of the time was interesting to me. What’s even more surprising (or maybe not so), is that in the present time, if you find yourself in a conservative circle, you’ll probably be met with the same narrow-minded judgement. In some cases, status quo is about the same.

Another point of interest for me was the implications of the women’s role during and after the war. When men left to fight, women assumed the jobs that they vacated. Waters deftly captures the gender role reversals after the war: while the men could barely find employment, the women have become established in positions that were previously unavailable to them. Some men felt castrated, and didn’t shy away from expressing their opinions.

Because this book was my baptism of fire to Waters’ works, I would consider it as an adjustment period of sorts. A taste test, to get a feel of what to expect from her. I’ve never been one to go for award-winning body of works, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try them. Sarah Waters writes with sophistication, but hardly reticent to tackle anything that could be considered crass or uncivilized, if need be.

I enjoyed this one, but I think hers are the kind of novels where your mood dictates exactly when you should pick them up. I’m looking forward to Fingersmith, though; and wouldn’t mind picking up her other novels as well.

  • Christy

    ” in the present time, if you find yourself in a conservative circle, youโ€™ll probably be met with the same narrow-minded judgement.”

    Oh, believe me, I know. It’s appalling what mayors and counsel members support around her. But anyway … I can see how this might be a mood read. I will say, your photo makes me want to read this book. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Havne’t heard of this one but the implications with women’s roles does sound interesting

  • Wow, sounds like a deep historical fiction that really deals with women’s rights at the time. Lovely review Joy! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • It sounds interesting and I confess that I love to have a book set during this period. It’s also interesting to see what they did during this time. Thanks for the discovery!

  • This sounds really interesting–and I had no idea that was what Sarah Waters largely writes about. The historical setting is absolutely what interests me the most, though, because that’s such a cool time in history and one I’ve read more literature from that a lot of others. I hope you enjoy Fingersmith! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • For the last couple of weeks at work the students had been reading and analysing Sarah Waters Infinity, I have to admit that a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have considered giving Waters books a go, but from your review and how intrigued the students have been with her work, it sounds like one author I shouldn’t be missing out on. Wonderful review Joy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I’m like you, Joy when it comes to lgtb books- a big mm fan, but when it comes to f/f books I think I read 1-2 books so far. Glad you enjoyed the story for the most of the part. It does sound like the type of read for which you need to be in the right mood. Great review!

  • You are reading all these different and interesting sounding books these days. <3 Amazing review Joy. I'm glad you enjoyed this book; but sorry you didn't fully love it : though, not hating a book is always a plus. <3 Not for me, not yet, but maybe one day I will want to read books like this too. <3 thank you for sharing about it sweetie ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I’ve heard great things about this book, though I also would have guessed that I’d have to be in the right mood for a story like this. Great review!

  • The Paying Guest sounds interesting with its historic take on how women made such a difference durning war in the workplace, and after war with its implications on men.
    Glad you tried something new and enjoyed it so well – lovely review!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Wow this sounds super interesting and definitely original for the time period.
    Great review!

  • The only book I’ve read of hers so far is The Night Watch, which I absolutely LOVED! Highly recommend that one.
    Jen @ YA Romantics