Day 694: The Paying Guests

Cover for The Paying GuestsSarah Waters builds on some of her themes from Affinity in the post-World War I novel The Paying Guests. Frances Wray lives with her mother in the family home, a large house that is getting a little seedy. Since the death of Frances’ father, they have had to dispense with servants, and Frances does all the housework herself. Now they have been forced to take in “paying guests,” giving up most of the top floor of their house to be their lodgers’ apartment. The lodgers are a young couple, Leonard and Lilian Barber.

Frances did not see her life like this. Not so long ago, she was in love with a friend, Christina, and they planned to make a home for themselves. But after the death of her father, Frances discovered he had lost all his money, leaving her mother nearly destitute, and she decided to stay to help her mother. Now she feels as if Christina and her new friend Stevie are leading the life she and Christina planned.

Class is an important issue in this novel and comes up constantly. Frances and Mrs. Wray feel they’ve been deceived when they take stock of their new guests, who are considerably less genteel than they thought. Frances often refers to them as being in the clerk class, but Lilian’s family is considerably more common. On the other end of the class scale, Frances has to wait to do her housework when her mother is out, because it appalls her so to see her daughter doing physical work. Her mother herself does none.

Different classes or not, Frances and Lilian tentatively develop a friendship. Soon, though, their relationship becomes a love affair. Frances wants them to run away to lead their own lives, but Lilian thinks she is fantasizing. Soon, their plans put them into peril.

This novel creates a fully realized time and place, with reference to many of Britain’s post-war issues. Unemployed soldiers on the streets are a problem as well as a growing sense of a less-ordered society.

I found Frances to be an interesting character but was less interested in Lilian, who seems more formless. I found the story compelling, though, wondering how the women would get through a difficult situation.

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12 thoughts on “Day 694: The Paying Guests

  1. Cathy746books April 29, 2015 / 2:24 pm

    I do love Sarah Waters work and got this one as a Christmas gift so I’m really looking forward to getting the time to read it!

    • whatmeread April 30, 2015 / 7:22 am

      I think I read Fingersmith awhile back, but i”m not sure.

  2. Naomi April 29, 2015 / 7:35 pm

    Another author I would like to read, but haven’t yet.

    • whatmeread April 30, 2015 / 7:23 am

      I like some of hers more than others. The Little Stranger was my favorite, although I don’t think it was as popular as some others.

  3. cconochalla June 25, 2015 / 10:53 pm

    This one really had me interested in the beginning. Somehow the innocuous routines of everyone in that house kept me reading and when the two leads fell in love it was so exciting. Maybe I’m boring but I would have really enjoyed it more if the conflict were the two leads having to figure out how to carve a life out for themselves. Keeping and maintaining love is so difficult and dramatic in and of itself the twist in plot almost seemed like an intentional vehicle for it to be impossible for them to be together. However, I did polish this one off in less than two days. Love Sarah Waters.

    • whatmeread June 26, 2015 / 7:24 am

      I think I agree with you about the plot twist, although I never thought about that until you wrote. However, Waters’ plots always seem to have their dark side.

      • cconochalla June 26, 2015 / 9:12 am

        You are absolutely right about that! Maybe I am numbed by all the horrible, disgusting dark worlds put out there in every medium these days, but this one didn’t shock me. I think my exact words were “oh…this is where she decided to go?” Still loved the book, still adore Sarah Waters. A couple together in murder? eh.

      • whatmeread June 26, 2015 / 9:17 am

        Yes, I was a bit surprised, but then again, since it was Waters, I probably shouldn’t have been. I think my favorite of her books is The Little Stranger. Have you read that one?

      • cconochalla June 27, 2015 / 10:18 am

        I did a while ago but it didn’t leave an impression on me. I am up there in the Fingersmith and Tipping The Velvet club. In my opinion Maud is one of the most amazing characters out there. No matter how many times I read it she has the same dumbfounded affect on me. What I love about Waters in general is she is the only lgbt fiction writer, that have found, who crafts her stories around stories and not erotica or hit-you-over-the-head “this is my gay story.” Shamim Sarif put out a few nice reads; mostly meant to push into the film medium, but there needs to be more. Let me know if you’ve read anyone similar to Waters. I have searched and read a lot of crap in the genre.

      • whatmeread June 27, 2015 / 3:25 pm

        Yeah, I’m not much of a fan of erotica of any kind.

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