The Paying Guests

Sarah Waters. Riverhead, $28.95 (576p) ISBN 978-1-59463-311-9
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. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/16/2014
Release date: 09/16/2014
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Hardcover - 576 pages - 978-0-7710-8941-1
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-349-00616-1
Hardcover - 2 pages - 978-1-4450-4369-2
Hardcover - 20 pages - 978-1-4450-4367-8
Hardcover - 1 pages - 978-0-7710-8943-5
Ebook - 576 pages - 978-0-698-15770-5
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-349-00460-0
Hardcover - 20 pages - 978-1-4450-4368-5
Hardcover - 808 pages - 978-1-4104-7604-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-61176-325-6
Hardcover - 566 pages - 978-0-349-00458-7
Hardcover - 416 pages - 978-0-349-00436-5
Compact Disc - 978-0-553-54484-8
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