The Paying Guests

by missmaudy

I’ve been a fan of Sarah Waters since Dee made me read Tipping the Velvet a really long time ago. I’ve always really enjoyed her books, and Ms Waters does write rather excellent sexy bits (very um cerebral), however, this isn’t the entire attraction – reading Ms Waters books really draws you into the very fabric of the society of the main characters. (Funnily enough, the Wikipedia says a couple of her influences are some of my favourite literary authors – John Fowles and AS Byatt, and Angela Carter – see, I’m not a total philistine!)

Anyway, in The Paying Guests, Miss Francis Wray and her mother (Mrs Wray) are living in straightened circumstances after the death of their slightly irresponsible father and husband, as well as the two sons of the family being killed in WWI (weird, reading a book about the aftermath of WWI in the midst of all the Anzac Day hoohah.) It took me a little minute to realise this book was actually set between the wars, because it felt more modern than that – I sort of though WWII. But I picked up pretty quickly. I’m slow, but I’m not chicken flavoured. Anyway, because of their financial situation, Miss and Mrs Wray are required to take in lodgers, and they rent out a part of their house to Lilian and Frank Barber who are definitely not like them at all. Frank struck me as being a bit of a spiv, and Lilian was a bit – the word has escaped me at the moment. A bit young and free spirited and blousy (that is so not the word. Far out, Brussels Sprout) And it turns out that Miss Wray had a ‘past’ including a lesbian lover and an ongoing friendship with said ex-lover. She was a “voice of reason” to Miss Wray’s somewhat overwrought histrionics.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the story. There was a plot twist that I was waiting for – it didn’t quite go the way I was expecting, although the fundament was there. And there were a couple of other directions the plot went that, while I was expecting it to head in the direction it travelled, it went by train instead of bus. (Cryptic description is cryptic. Plot device = predictable, mechanism of plot device = not what I was expecting).

I did enjoy it – I found it to be lovely and soft and soothing to read. This on the one hand meant that it took ages to read, because I’d fall asleep reading it; but on the other hand, when I got to the exciting bit, I stayed up reading ridiculously late and then I couldn’t go to sleep! BUT there were aspects of it I didn’t like at all. I didn’t like the relationship between Frank and Lil, at all. He was all sneery and leery and a sleazeball. There’s a scene that’s really NASTY. Sort of rape-y without actual penetration. And yeah, won’t look at snakes and ladders the same way again.

I’ll probably give this book about 3 and a half stars. I liked it, and missed it when I finished it But I forgot about it really quickly – I forgot that I’d a) finished it and b) not blogged about it.