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The Paying Guests
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The Paying Guests
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The New York Times bestselling novel that has been called “a tour de force” (Wall Street Journal), “unputdownable” (The Washington Post), “a delicious hothouse of a...
The New York Times bestselling novel that has been called “a tour de force” (Wall Street Journal), “unputdownable” (The Washington Post), “a delicious hothouse of a...
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  • The New York Times bestselling novel that has been called “a tour de force” (Wall Street Journal), “unputdownable” (The Washington Post), “a delicious hothouse of a novel” (USA Today), “effortless” (The Economist), “seductive” (Vanity Fair) and “pitch perfect” (Salon)
     
    “Superb, bewitching…Forget about Fifty Shades of Grey; this novel is one of the most sensual you will ever read, and all without sacrificing either good taste or a "G" rating” – NPR
     
    “One of the year’s most engrossing and suspenseful novels…a love affair, a shocking murder, and a flawless ending … Will keep you sleepless for three nights straight and leave you grasping for another book that can sustain that high.” — Entertainment Weekly (A rating)
    Volcanically sexy, sizzingly smart, plenty bloody and just plain irresistible." —USA Today (4 stars)
    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.
    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. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
    Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction, and here she has delivered again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters’s finest achievement yet.
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

    Copyright © 2014 Sarah Waters


    One









    The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half-past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling no sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.

    She stood at a window in the largest of the rooms—the room which, until recently, had been her mother’s bedroom, but was now to be the Barbers’ sitting-room—and stared out at the street. The afternoon was bright but powdery. Flurries of wind sent up puffs of dust from the pavement and the road. The grand houses opposite had a Sunday blankness to them—but then, they had that every day of the week. Around the corner there was a large hotel, and motor-cars and taxi-cabs occasionally came this way to and from it; sometimes people strolled up here as if to take the air. But Champion Hill, on the whole, kept itself to itself. The gardens were large, the trees leafy. You would never know, she thought, that grubby Camberwell was just down there. You’d never guess that a mile or two further north lay London, life, glamour, all that.

    The sound of a vehicle made her turn her head. A tradesman’s van was approaching the house. This couldn’t be them, could it? She’d expected a carrier’s cart, or even for the couple to arrive on foot—but, yes, the van was pulling up at the kerb, with a terrific creak of its brake, and now she could see the faces in its cabin, dipped and gazing up at hers: the driver’s and Mr Barber’s, with Mrs Barber’s in between. Feeling trapped and on display in the frame of the window, she lifted her hand, and smiled.

    This is it, then, she said to herself, with the smile still in place.

    It wasn’t like beginning a journey, after all; it was like ending one and not wanting to get out of the train. She pushed away from the window and went downstairs, calling as brightly as she could from the hall into the drawing-room, ‘They’ve arrived, Mother!’

    By the time she had opened the front door and stepped into the porch the Barbers had left the van and were already at the back of it, already unloading their things. The driver was helping them, a young man dressed almost identically to Mr Barber in a blazer and a striped neck-tie, and with a similarly narrow face and ungreased, week-endy hair, so that for a moment Frances was uncertain which of the two wasMr Barber. She had met the couple only once, nearly a fortnight ago. It had been a wet April evening and the husband had come straight from his office, in a mackintosh and bowler hat.

    But now she recalled his gingery moustache, the reddish gold of his hair. The other man was fairer. The wife, whose outfit before had been sober and rather anonymous, was wearing a skirt with a fringe to it and a crimson jersey. The skirt ended a good six inches above her ankles. The jersey was long and not at all clinging, yet somehow revealed the curves of her figure. Like the men, she was hatless. Her dark hair was short, curling forward over her cheeks but shingled at the nape of her neck, like a clever black cap.

    How young they looked! The men seemed no more...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 16, 2014
    With two brothers killed in WWI and a debt-ridden father who followed them to the grave soon afterward, 27-year-old spinster Frances Wray knows that she and her mother must take in lodgers (euphemistically described as “paying guests”) to maintain their large house in a genteel section of London. In the postwar social landscape of England in 1922, the rise of a new middle class and the dwindling of the old servant class are disrupting longtime patterns of life. The disruptions occasioned by the advent of their tenants, the lower-class couple Leonard and Lilian Barber, are minor at first. But as Frances observes the tensions in the Barbers’ marriage and develops a sexual attraction for the beautiful Lily, who soon reciprocates her love, a fraught and dangerous situation develops. Lost in the passion of mutual ardor, Frances and Lily scheme to create a life together. An accidental murder they commit derails their plans and transforms the novel, already an absorbing character study, into an expertly paced and gripping psychological narrative. When an innocent man is arrested for the women’s crime, they face a terrible moral crisis, marked by guilt, shame, and fear. Readers of Waters’s previous novels know that she brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places. Waters’s restrained, beautiful depiction of lesbian love furnishes the story with emotional depth, as does the suspense that develops during the tautly written murder investigation and ensuing trial. When Frances and Lily confront their radically altered existence, the narrative culminates in a breathtaking denouement. British writer Waters (The Little Stranger) deserves a large audience.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from August 1, 2014
    An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain-with really hot sex. It's 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging "clerk class," the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. Tension is high from the first paragraph, as Frances waits for the new lodgers to move in: "She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax." The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian, and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight; when Frances and Lilian go on a picnic, "the eggs [give] up their shells as if shrugging off cumbersome coats"-just like the women. As life-and-death questions are answered, new ones come up, and until the last page, the reader will have no idea what's going to happen. Waters keeps getting better, if that's even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2014
    In 1922 London, newly widowed Mrs. Wray has the genteel manners and spacious manse common to her social set. But there isn't enough money for her and her spinster daughter, Frances, to live on, so they must take in lodgers. Enter the Barbers, a married couple who are looking to move up the social ladder. What sounds like a Jane Austen setup quickly segues from clashing manners to building sexual tension between Frances and the beautiful Lilian Barber. Waters ("Tipping the Velvet") leads listeners through hidden trysts, murderous plans, and a breathtaking courtroom denouement. This is a tale soaked in atmosphere and blessed with Waters's gimlet eye toward social (pre)tensions. Stage veteran Juliet Stevenson delivers a smartly paced, perceptive narration. VERDICT Recommended. ["For fans of complex historical crime fiction with a strong sense of dread," read the review of the Riverhead hc, "LJ" 7/14.]--Kelly Sinclair, Temple P.L., TX

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    April 1, 2014

    Three-time Man Booker Prize finalist, two-time Orange Prize finalist, and one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists, Waters has earned the right to catch our eye with this next novel. In 1920s London, with the Great War having left families decimated, spinster Frances Wray and her widowed mother realize that to continue living in their grand house on Champion Hill, they must take in boarders. But they hadn't bargained for the disruption caused by the young couple who move in, which leads to love, crime, and deep insight into the changing times.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2014

    Frances Wray is a woman of limited opportunities stuck in genteel poverty in an England that has not quite recovered from World War I. When she and her mother begin renting out half of their house to the Barbers, the change is disruptive. The Barbers are lower class, a little noisy, and tacky. Leonard sometimes says off-color things to Frances; Lilian is pretty but unhappy. Something is off about the Barbers' marriage, but a part of Frances relishes the change. As Frances and Lilian grow closer, she finds Lilian more attractive and their lives begin to mesh. But when a crisis comes, will each woman be able to see it through? And what does it mean morally if they do? Can love really conquer everything? Moody and atmospheric, this latest from three-time Booker Prize finalist Waters (The Little Stranger) has a rich historical setting in which you can feel the smallness of middle-class English life. But neither Frances nor Lilian is terribly sympathetic, and it's hard to root for them. But perhaps that is the point. Waters keeps you guessing until the very end. VERDICT For fans of complex historical crime fiction with a strong sense of dread. [See Prepub Alert, 3/10/14.]--Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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