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Book 45: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Book 45: The Paying Guests.
Author: Sarah Waters, 2014
Genre: Period Fiction. Relationship Drama. GLBT.
Other Details: Hardback. 576 pages.

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.

For 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. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
- synopsis from author's website.

The Guardian review of this novel stated of Sarah Waters that "she is not afraid to play with her readers' expectations" and also noted the dramatic key change that occurs part way through the novel. I would agree with these observations though came to it with few expectations. I found it a well observed post-Great War relationship drama that unfolds in the close atmosphere of the South London house. Then came the 'key change', which I will not say too much about apart from the fact that it transformed the novel from the above slow-paced drama into a page-turner worthy of any modern thriller.

Up to that point I had been somewhat under-whelmed by this book and while it is not my favourite for the Baileys Prize I felt it was well written and very compelling. The setting, as with all of Waters' novels, was faultless. The issues raised were important ones and I would think this novel will prove a favourite with reading groups. One that is best read without reading too much in advance about the plot.
Tags: drama, glbt, period fiction (20th century)

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