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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
There's no two ways about it. Sarah Waters delivers. She's an accomplished and deft storyteller and is skilled at taking her reader right into the heart of the story. Each book has a specific and well defined setting. I was initially drawn to her work by 'Fingersmith'; shades of Hogarth and Dickens cleverly woven into a convincing and compelling tale. Her Booker...
Published 8 months ago by Bookie

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful evocation of place, milieu and time, but.....
Sarah Waters writes era, milieu, and place like no other. She is rigorously, yet subtlety, attentive to detail and builds her characters and her scenery with such a powerful sense of authenticity that you could be sitting right there in a dusty old wing chair, watching the internal dialogue flit across the face of a protagonist through the stagnant air of the once-grand,...
Published 3 months ago by Hard-marker


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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 28 Aug. 2014
By 
Bookie (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Kindle Edition)
There's no two ways about it. Sarah Waters delivers. She's an accomplished and deft storyteller and is skilled at taking her reader right into the heart of the story. Each book has a specific and well defined setting. I was initially drawn to her work by 'Fingersmith'; shades of Hogarth and Dickens cleverly woven into a convincing and compelling tale. Her Booker nominations are well deserved. Her writing is lively, her characters, plot and period are evocative. So I was keen to read her latest offering which considers a completely different period, post WWI London.

In The Paying Guests, the reader is immediately drawn in to the 1922 London setting. It's an era of faded elegance; Frances and her mother have fallen upon hard times. Father made some unwise investments, leaving his wife and daughter impoverished and the sons/ brothers died in the First World War. There are no servants, no men in the household and from the opening pages, the discomfort and sense of duty is almost palpable. To make ends meet, following the reluctant sale of household items, they are forced to take in the PGs of the title. The class division is immediately apparent. There's a new social order. Frances and her mother are no longer protected by class barriers and they're faced with the challenges of sharing both their lives and home with Lil and Len. They're 'clerk class'; a little coarse, but aspirational. Frances appears tight and constrained physically, mentally and emotionally. There's a sense of sadness and loss. In contrast, Lil personifies the new Flapper age with her shingle haircut and desire to embrace freedom, informality and a different lifestyle. Her husband Len is a cheeky chappy, confident and sensuous and full of innuendo. Add Frances' Bloomsbury friends to the mix; Bohemian and unconventional, they add a different but equally plausible layer to the story. There's a real sense of social history; home remedies,,attitudes, street weary war veterans each has a place. But one of the most compelling elements is the 'character' of the house in which most of the action takes place. It's a property which gains a real life; waxed or varnished floors, walls papered, varnished or distempered, and locus which serve to both confine and expand the action. Hallways and landings where people meet and half lives are glimpsed... It's fascinating.

This book is very much a story of two halves. I'm not saying more..! It's truly difficult to review this extraordinary tale without exposing plot detail. Suffice to say, I'm bowled over by the book. It held my attention well into the night and I finished it off earlier today. The plot is more complex than it first seems. In essence a love story, but with murder along the way and a convincing Old Bailey trial, it's an articulate compelling tale of love, loss and class divide. There's passion, pain and some truly moving passages. Vivid in characters, plot and dialogue, it's a skilful and well told tale filled with social observation and comment. I loved it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to put down!!!, 1 Nov. 2014
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I was absolutely bowled over by this book and have left it a week before reviewing to allow myself time to do it properly - and to read what others have thought. A week has indeed passed and I am still as impressed as when I finished reading the last sentence.

The slow first half has been mentioned by several reviewers but to me it was essential to the story overall and I enjoyed every stage of the book in equal measure. I was effortlessly transported to early 1920's London and Waters has a talent in making the reader see whatever period she is writing about as a "modern world" through the characters eyes as opposed to simply looking back in time.

Although it was soon pretty clear which path the first part of the story was heading I love how Waters hits the spot in relationships and describes the simmering tensions, anticipations, hopes and fears that most of us will have experienced from time to time. Her ability to bring these to life is one of her fortés. The chapter where two of the characters go to a party was a masterpiece in my opinion - a similar scene was in "The Little Stranger" - also extremely well portrayed and totally believable.

It is without doubt one of the most enjoyable novels that I have read for many a year. Normal situations that that gradually become anything but normal through subtle and sometimes not so subtle events which at times I found myself holding my head in suspense.

I appreciate that what presses my buttons does not necessarily work for others but for me it is my favourite Sarah Waters tale - which given how much I enjoyed "Fingersmith" is quite an achievement.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I feel somewhat wrung out like an old dishcloth after finishing this book, 18 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Kindle Edition)
Well, I feel somewhat wrung out like an old dishcloth after finishing this book.

I'm in two minds slightly (several minds in fact) about it. Did I love it? Did I even like it? Did I just spend several torturous days pouring over the pages only to be punched in the solar plexus by the last few chapters? Was the ending perfect? Were the characters still likeable when all was said and done? Desperate and clinging, and often crazed with calamity as they were. Did I in fact grow to feel for them, hope for them, plan for them, only for them to let me down?

All of the above and more besides.

I can't fault the book on its wordiness, its atmosphere and depth. That's what you get with this author. I felt slightly oppressed by it in Affinity, it worked perfectly in Tipping the Velvet, and I especially cherished it in Fingersmith. This book drew me in the same, brought the characters to life, and had me reading until my eyes were raw in the hopes I could finish it, sit back and feel that everything, after all, would end up ok. Or some semblance of ok that I could live with at least.

I could live with this. It's not picture perfect. It's not all tied up in a neat bow and done with once you finish. I want to know what happens next. I need to know the rest of it, but that's not to say I wasn't satisfied with the ending; it just felt like I'd been drug there through so many bramble bushes and puddles of wet cement that I craved something more. Having said that, I felt the journey was worth it - though I do think that part 3 went on a little bit too long, with its aching need to keep me reading until I could barely stand the twisted anguish these two main characters found themselves in. It got a little maddening, but then I suppose that was the point.

But read on I did, and when I finally finished I instantly wanted to pick up another book that would toss me about so skilfully, leave me feeling both weary and contented at once, satisfied yet somewhat suspended and flailing about as I hoped for more to the story. Unfortunately, there are not many books that can evoke that kind of reaction in me, not many authors who get the balance right. And I'm fine reading the kinds of books that don't linger quite as much, or leave quite the impression, pull you in to the point you forget it's just a book and the characters aren't actually real. I thoroughly enjoy reading the frivolous books, the books that follow the same tried and tested patterns, hold the same basic stories, the same - mostly insubstantial - indulgences. They're like delicious snacks (and I do love snacks), but this book was a meal. I took a bite and couldn't stop eating, even when I was sure I was full and needed to take a breather I soon went right back to it, fork in hand

The Paying Guests will certainly live on in my stomach, and my head, for a while; the good and the bad. Though to be honest I can't find much at all in the way of bad thoughts. Not everything sat quite right with me with the book - the overly long third part, the bleakness of some of it, some unresolved things here and there that will prickle at me - but overall I can put it aside feeling like I read something that stands out from the crowd. A story that taunted and tested me, with characters that I came to care about even though they were sometimes undeniably in the wrong.

Well written characters have always been a big draw for me. Characters I can understand and empathise with, feel for, are what can make or break a book, and Frances had me right there with her every step of the way. I'm so glad the book was solely from her point of view, it felt much more intimate that way, much more compelling.

And the setting, so well structured, and detailed without being detached. I could picture every room, feel every room. It was as if I was right there scrubbing the floors alongside Frances. Sarah has such a skill with this (as far as I'm concerned), and it never fails to capture me. Emotions were tangible with these distinctive and developed characters, and the maddening inflexibility of the era came across perfectly.

There was a an overall tenseness to this book because of the era, and some scenes were fraught with uneasiness, possibility, and often danger. There are scenes that I can picture so easily, so well were they presented.

I know I'll reread this at some point in the future and enjoy once again the way the author draws you right into these lives, this plot, and the eventuality of it all. I'll embark on the journey with a surer step - knowing the destination, the outcome - hopefully avoiding the dishcloth feeling that the anxiety of the plot, and the not knowing, brought about. It's definitely a meal that needs to be savoured a second time.

I think I've convinced myself that I did in fact like it rather a lot after all.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Compelling, 31 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Hardcover)
Sarah Water's long awaited new novel doesn't disappoint at all. This is a brilliantly written and very evocative story that in spite of being rich with domestic, geographical and socio-political detail, never becomes mired down in this and remains an utterly compelling story. Sarah Waters is a writer of great skill and this is one of her finest works.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disastrous Consequences, 1 Jan. 2015
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Paying Guests (Hardcover)
1922, in post war London finds many changes in how people live. We become privy to the lives of the Wrays, Frances and her mother, and the Barbers, Len and Lil, the Wrays tenants. The Wrays live in a lovely area of old grand homes, with staff to do the cooking and cleaning and all the ordinary things. Except in the Wray home, Frances father died and left them with an enormous amount of debt and a small pension. Thus the Wrays have rearranged their home to allow for an upstairs apartment of sorts. It is here that we meet the Barbers.

Frances in her late 20's has been relegated to doing all of the housework, the cooking, the baking, the finances. Mrs. Wray is helpful in pulling up weeds, she is adrift in the kitchen and any sort of cleaning is not known to her. The Barbers a few stations below the Wrays in the social strata have moved in to the second floor rooms. They are lively and attractive. Lilian is a gypsy liked woman, beautiful and dressing in an artistic mode. Len works in the insurance business, and goes off every morning to his job, while Lilian flits around, cleaning and reading and cooking. Frances is at first a little reluctant to get to know the Barbers. Frances seems a repressed sort of woman, no boyfriend, a few friends. We learn she gave up a love when her father died, and her mother needed her. Her two brothers died in the War, so Mrs. Wray only has Frances, and Frances, well, she does not have much.

After a time, Frances and Lilian become friends and go on picnics and walks together. One night they went to a party at Lilian's family home. Len had a business function and could not attend. Prior to this party, Frances had told Lilian that when she was in love it had been with another woman. Lilian was shocked and retreated a little, but soon accepted this. The party was a lively time, a lot to drink and dancing to be done. At a late hour, Lilian and Frances went home. What they had discovered while dancing was an attraction, and soon this leads to an affair. This is a very seductive novel, and Lilian and Frances with their romantic awakening, make it all the more so.

The writing is superb and draws you in from page one. I began to feel I knew Frances and how she perceives her feelings. Lilian a little more outgoing and beautiful had never really found love. Len, a flirtaceous man, who seems to be a good man, but not in a happy marriage. Mrs. Worth more interested in her social staus, friends and church work . Whether she realizes what Frances has given up to maintain the household is not known. 'The Paying Guests' has a startling pace with a wonderful feel of London after the battering war. The consequences of the passionate love affair are disastrous, and where does it leave us?

Highly Recommended. prisrob 01-01-15
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful evocation of place, milieu and time, but....., 19 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Paying Guests (Kindle Edition)
Sarah Waters writes era, milieu, and place like no other. She is rigorously, yet subtlety, attentive to detail and builds her characters and her scenery with such a powerful sense of authenticity that you could be sitting right there in a dusty old wing chair, watching the internal dialogue flit across the face of a protagonist through the stagnant air of the once-grand, now-faded, parlour. However, in this case, wonderful though her writing is, it felt like there was not enough to build the novel upon. The narrative, despite the unusual, (then and now - generally speaking in terms of fiction) nature of the relationship between the two main protagonists veered into cliché, with the main plot hinge clearly foreshadowed. Despite the careful development of tension, each of the characters remained largely unknown in their motivations and unlikeable, or, even worse, bland personalities unworthy of novelisation or of grand passion. Perhaps that was an intentional way to describe the suffocating restrictions of the times, but it made for dull reading. I ended up skimming the laboriously detailed pages that seem to be repetitious or circuitous, after beginning to feel somewhat as Frances must have done, seemingly trapped in her pointless, stultifying existence. Sadly the action, when it arrived, was not enough to jolt me out of my ennui and I closed the book feeling glad that it was done - not something I expected from a Sarah Waters book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oh the suspense!, 9 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Hardcover)
This isn't a bad novel by any stretch of the imagination, only perhaps we fundamentally aren't suited and therefore only hit it off slightly. Waters' is a wordsmith and her strength is her beautifully crafted images of the mundane, miniscule or the everyday. i found the visual landscape and action in this book incredibly vivid and believable, which made the book enjoyable. My issue is the length of the suspense coded into this story arc. After the key event, there's a very very long way to go before you reach the book's conclusion. It's like seeing a runaway train coming towards you, but from a really, really, REALLY long way a way. You kind of know what's going to happen, it feels inevitable, but you're going to have to wait a long time and the suspense just keeps on, and on, until you're pretty much exhausted and frankly your interest peaked a while back thanks very much.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sumptuous read!, 28 Dec. 2014
By 
C. Bannister (Jersey, CI) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Paying Guests (Hardcover)
The most apt word I can think of to describe this book is sumptuous! This is a book to delight the reader with the layers of detail which build a picture of a household in London in the 1920’s. Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances found themselves struggling to make ends meet after the loss of the men during World War I and the solution is to take in some paying guests, their gentrified term for lodgers. With the household rejigged to make space for a couple of rooms the day arrives for Leonard and Lillian Barber to move in. Lily sets about decorating her rooms in her own style while Leonard works away at his job at an insurance company and the household begins to adapt to the new routine. The Wrays meanwhile remain suspended in the disagreeable place between accepting and despising the changes the new occupants bring to the house.

As you would expect from a Sarah Waters novel there is a sapphic element to this tale which has far reaching consequences for a number of the characters so much so that the household becomes embroiled in a court case. The scenes during the investigation made for fascinating reading especially as it was underpinned by research which was used to give a feeling of authenticity and at times my heart was in my mouth as the wheels of justice turned.

The other area of research which shone through although without ever overpowering the story line was the role of women during this age. With those men that had returned from the war often destitute the role of women was at a turning point but for most the freedom to make their own decisions was a long way into the future. Lilian has little to do with her days except to put fripperies up around her rooms while Frances fills her days with the housework that only a few years before would have been performed by servants. Her free time sees her walking to London to visit her old friend who has more independence, having rented some rooms and making money by typing for money. Mrs Wray still makes visits to friends and her worthy causes, showing her determination to carry on as before, but these interactions are marked of earlier times, whereas the younger characters are forging ahead uncertainly and with differing degrees of success into the new age.

All of that is underpinned by the brilliant characters, all from the most minor, to those who hold the spotlight, are exquisitely drawn, the nuances betray a depth makes this a book to savour and I found my reading speed slowing to immerse myself in these details. With no character being all bad, or all good, this book is one that will make you question what you have learnt through Frances’ telling of the tale from her point of view; who really drove the action? What secrets were bought into the unsuspecting Wray household? And maybe most importantly what on earth happened after the book ended. Yes there is an open(ish) ending, not a device I often agree with but this one is clever, it doesn’t smack of laziness or a wish to give each reader the ending they want but mirrors the content of this rich and luxurious book, one of those books which you know will give up even more details on a second read, a definite ‘keeper.’
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hugely entertaining novel of secrets and clandestine passion that keeps the reader in suspense to the very last page., 13 Mar. 2015
By 
Marius Gabriel "Author" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Kindle Edition)
Sarah Waters has done more to bring Lesbian writing into mainstream fiction than any other author, including more literary ones and more partisan ones. The reason is obvious -- she is a wonderfully talented and entertaining storyteller, with an unmatched ability to evoke a time and a place.

In many ways, "The Paying Guests" is a dark, chilling story. Like much of Sarah Waters' work, it describes the loneliness and isolation of swimming against the current, the joy of being found by a kindred spirit, and the shattering unpredictability of human relationships. But it also celebrates the warmth of love in a cold universe, and the ultimate strength of the human desire to be different.

If this makes "The Paying Guests" sound preachy, I've given the wrong impression. It's a hugely entertaining novel that keeps the reader in suspense to the very last page. The details of everyday life, class and society in 1922 are drawn with supernatural skill. That happens to be the year my mother was born, and I was often open-mouthed at Sarah Waters' ability to evoke the era.

All in all, it's a ravishing achievement. I was gripped from the very first page. Highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful novel!, 9 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: The Paying Guests (Kindle Edition)
Absolutely loved it! I have read all Sarah Waters' novels and I think this is one of the best - I love how she takes you right into whatever era she is writing about - in this case the years just after the Great War and you can so easily feel what it must have been like then for her characters. The story starts off quite slowly but by the end I couldn't put it down and was completely absorbed in the plot. Utterly fabulous - reading books like this makes me feel really cheery because there is wonderful stuff out there to be read.
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