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The Paying Guests

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  77,069 ratings  ·  8,603 reviews
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. ...more
Hardcover, 564 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published August 28th 2014)
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Karen I think it's not a trend, just a question of taste. The length worked great for me. When I like a book, I don't want it to end! And I love detail.…moreI think it's not a trend, just a question of taste. The length worked great for me. When I like a book, I don't want it to end! And I love detail.(less)
Heather Stowell Some people have access to ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) or something similar. This is when publishers make available copies available ahead of the rele…moreSome people have access to ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) or something similar. This is when publishers make available copies available ahead of the release date of their books as part of a PR (public relations) move to promote sales of their books by taking a chance that the book they are offering will garner more good reviews than bad and in doing so will encourage more sales of the book.(less)

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Average rating 3.44  · 
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La Petite Américaine Cash App: $Covid2020sucks
Sep 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one. :(
After two years of waiting for Sarah Waters' new novel to come out, reading this actually made me want to cry a little. I don't know what to say. When a book this terrible is written by an author that we know is capable of so much more, it feels like a personal affront.

After a fantastic debut and decades of decent novels, what the hell went so wrong with The Paying Guests? How could our fair Sarah do this to us?

It's all pretty simple. The problem with this book is that Sarah Waters got famous.
Bonnie Brody
Aug 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
I struggled through this book, and I DO mean struggled. I usually finish a book within three days, even one as lengthy as this one. It took me over a week to read this novel and I did not find it enjoyable. I am new to Sarah Waters though I've had her novel, Fingersmith, recommended to me in the past.

I found The Paying Guests to be overwritten and overwrought. Frances, the protagonist, is given to internal meanderings that repeat themselves over and over again. A good third of this book could ha
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: free-from-work
this is another stunner from sarah waters, who seems to be back to her full strength after the divisive The Little Stranger. this book, to me, was nearly as good as the unbeatable Fingersmith.

this is her first novel set just post-WWI, and it is such a perfect setting for her to be writing in, considering her typical themes of gender and class. WWI was an unprecedented situation for england, with far-reaching and unforeseen consequences affecting those left behind. while the boys were off fighti
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“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 furnishe ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Up until now, I have not read Sarah Waters. But if any of her previous books are half as compelling and page-turning as The Paying Guest, I have a big treat to look forward to in the near future.

To sum it up in three words: it’s a stunner. Any exploration of the plot will spoil the carefully-constructed narrative with its unexpected twists and turns. The bare bones are these: Frances Wright, considered a spinster at age 27 and believed a little “odd” because she is a lesbian, lives with her newl
Turn off the phone, unplug the television, call in sick to work. Just do it now, before you open the front cover to The Paying Guests, so you won’t have to tear yourself away later on.

It’s 1922 and life in a dull London suburb has become one of drudgery and tedium for Frances Wray. Single, in her late 20s, and living with her widowed mother, Frances has narrowed her world to a pinpoint of housework and Wednesday trips to the cinema. Her older brothers were killed in the war and her father’s sha
Paul Bryant
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Sarah Waters wrote Fingersmith and so attained semi-divine status in 2002. I really um and ah about reading anything else by one of my 5-star authors because the only way is down. The last two from SW (The Little Stranger & The Night Watch) never reached out tentacled appendages and bade me read them, but this one did.

And I’m in two minds about it, which is almost two whole minds more more than usual.


- What have you been doing for the last 3 days? Reading this 564
Dec 03, 2013 marked it as dnf-arcs  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: womens-prize
It's with a heavy heart I have decided I am not going to finish reading this properly. I did, in fact, read more than halfway through before skimming the whole of the rest, right to the end, so really I could claim it as 'read' and give it a rating, but I'm not going to. I was looking forward to reading it so much, and am so disappointed I didn't like it.

Waters' last book, The Little Stranger, is one of my favourite books of all time, although the general consensus is that it is quite different
B the BookAddict
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: AAB group members
Shelves: hist-fiction
I felt a personal link to this story: in 1922, my Nana, Florence, was the same age as the character, Frances Wray. Two brothers, George and Edwin served in WWI and during that war; they made a reciprocal promise to each other. Nana was engaged to George but sadly, he was killed just days before the war ended. Edwin came home to fulfil his part of the promise; he married Florence, who would become my Nana. The death of Florence’s father and two older brothers in the war meant the family money tra ...more
SEX, fingers, blood, fingers, death, gloves, passion, feet, loss, fingers

I’m guessing that got your attention. It’s also the gist of the book, though not necessarily in that order. The first half is packed with sexual tension – and release - but most reviews seem to shy away from indicating that. Tastefully explicit, and touchingly erotic; “The PGs” is definitely not PG.

It’s a story of two very different parts (but oddly divided into three sections): the first is a love story, that is doubly ta
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Part 1: cosy and a bit drab but in an interesting way, like a Barbara Pym novel (hmm, I thought, this is a new side of Sarah Waters)
Part 2: SEXY (oh never mind, there she is!)
Part 3: brutal, agonizing tension like waiting for medical results or SAT scores
Part 4: (yeah right, like I'm going to spoil the ending for you)
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
There is so much to like about this book. Sarah Waters slowly and exquisitely sets her scene, 1922 London after World War I. Frances Wray and her mother live in an aging home in a genteel London neighborhood. Their fortunes have suffered due to unfortunate investments and they are forced to take in boarders, called “paying guests.” The boarders are a young married couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber. This simple act of economy has unintended consequences that transforms lives forever.

I don’t want
Oct 05, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014
Geepers, this book.

It's just ... oh, it is a boring mess. Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet and even The Night Watch which I didn't really like all that much at least had things happening that didn't always involve the main characters. The world was moving.

Here, the world is stuck: it's just after WWI and no one really seems to know where to go or what to do.

And for the first half of the book, nothing happens. A couple moves in to Frances' house. That's it. OK, there's some woman-on-woman actio
Aug 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I am conflicted about this novel. The prose is lovely and I really liked the first half of the book, but I grew impatient with the stale plotting of the second half.

The heroine of the story is Frances Wray, who lives with her widowed mother in a genteel home in 1920s London. To help pay the bills, the Wrays take in lodgers, who are politely called "paying guests." The lodgers are a young married couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber. Frances becomes friends with Lilian, and then falls in love with
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club, fiction
Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle. A read for my IRL book club.

I came to this novel having barely skimmed the description, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. As I started it, one book club friend was lamenting that she was waiting for something to happen…

And I must admit, this story has a slow lead-in. It’s 1922; London is still recovering from the War, with unemployed ex-servicemen everywhere, many families still mourning the men they’ve lost, and the former servant class deser
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it

3.5 stars

Formerly well-off Frances Wray and her mother are having a hard time in post-WWI London. Frances' brothers were lost in the war and her father died leaving a load of debt. To conserve money the Wrays had to let the help go. So 26-year-old Frances has to do all the household chores.....

.....while her mother - apparently unable or unwilling to do any cooking or cleaning - goes about her personal business.

Thus Frances is generally roughly dressed, tired, and sporting the rough, red hands
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: british
Now this was a BOOK.

I don't want to say much about this one. And I really don't think it's a good idea to go nosing about for information. Just wait patiently until it hits the shelves (or do what I did: stew about it and figure out a way to get a copy early and fast). Go into into this one as green as you can. Don't read any reviews (okay, maybe karen's: ). I've checked out the reviews, and there are a few gals who seem to be spoiler-buttoned-challenged
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Pretty good as a time machine to London in the period of recovery after World War 1. A domestic drama plays out in the life of Frances and her mother that begins with taking on a young couple, the Barbers, as boarders. The economic pinch of the losses of a father and brothers in the war has them relinquishing an upper class life with servants and struggling to keep their house. The sense of invasion of their life to these “paying guests” is well done. The Barbers are of the “clerking class” who ...more
This is a slow read and packed with lots of details of English domestic life so be warned. I plodded through semi-interested and occasionally riveted. The ending is a humdinger (don't you love that word) and so I am glad I stuck with it. I am a fan of the talented Welsh author Sarah Waters. If you haven't read "Fingersmith" or "The Little Stranger"...go pick up some copies.
Her book is set in 1922 in Camberwell, South London, where a elderly widow and adult daughter live in a comfortable home. T
Sep 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, fiction, british, crime
This is my first Sarah Waters and I was surprised to find it darker and creepier than her mainstream popularity led me to expect. I must have been adding my own embellishments as I read others’ reviews, creating my own reality. In a way, this is what Waters’ central character, Frances, does in this story about mores in 1920’s England and two women who try to find their way to love in secret.

Frances belongs to a genteel household which includes only herself and her mother now at the end of WWI wh
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
I just listened to this audiobook and it was great! Here it is 1922 in a genteel house in a genteel neighborhood jut outside London and Mrs. Wray and her 26 y/o daughter Frances pass each day very much like the day before.

This all changes when they decide to take in Paying Guests, to rent out some of their rooms so that they can make ends meet and continue to stay in the house, money is very tight.

Eventually there is a love affair, a murder and this evolves into an edge of your seat crime thril
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, reviewed
"They had no idea how decency, loyalty, courage, how it all shriveled away when one was frightened."

So, days after finishing The Paying Guests I am still shaking my head in disbelief. Disbelief that a book can have the power to torment me and make me feel like it tied me to the rear bumper and dragged me backwards through vast wilderness of human emotions.

The story is set in London of the 1920s complete with luscious descriptions of fashion and day-to-day details of the post-war life. Left in
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What an incredible book. Sarah Waters has created a marvelous piece of historical fiction set in England 1922 in a genteel Camberwell neighborhood. The war has ended. Many have died, including the protagonist’s two brothers and her father. Those that returned from the war are disillusioned. Frances Wray and her mother are left bankrupt by their father who squandered away their money. They have dismissed the servants and are now taking in boarders. Frances does all the cleaning and cooking h ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This atmospheric novel is set in London, 1922. The country is still reeling after the First World War and, in Camberwell, widowed Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are just two women dealing with the aftermath. The house resounds with ghosts, including that of Mrs Wray’s sons, John Arthur and Noel, who died in the war. Frances, meanwhile, is full of resentment; much of it aimed at her dead father, who she felt bullied her brother’s into enlisting, before leaving her and her mother beh ...more
Sep 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Admirable Historical Writing, but Too Unremittingly Bleak to be Enjoyable

This is a tough book to review.

I admired the author's skill.

The characters are believable, especially the very sympathetic Frances Wray, the main character.

Her accuracy of time and place is excellent. So is the muted tone of the prose.

And Juliet Stevenson did a nearly superhuman job reading the audio. This cannot have been the easiest material to read.


The book is so bleak (although the ending is more hopeful than m
Felicity Allan
Oct 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
Groosly overwriten and cliched, the most glaring deficiency is a complete lack of firm, sympathetic editing. Key scenes, when they eventually arrive, are marred by repetition, bad use of adjectives and seriously poor punctuation.

The main protagonists are completely two dimensional, particularly the ghastly, flaccid Lilian, and there is a passage in serious contention for the Bad Sex prize.

The narrative is very obviously a close copy of 'A Pin To See The Peepshow', which is sad given Sarah Waters

It is year 1922, the dust after the turmoil of war hardly fell, the higher social classes have lost their fortunes and former status and are forced to live in new circumstances. Such fate shares 26-year-old Frances Wray who lives with her mother in decaying house in the suburbs of London. Her brothers died at the front and father died leaving family in debts. Frances, formerly feisty activist and suffragist all at once has a lot on her plate. She’s a maid and gardener, cleaning lady and nurse. H
3.75/5. There are so, so many things I love about Sarah Waters' writing. Her prose is stunning – it's (for lack of a better term) literary, but still easy to get into, and makes her books simultaneously challenging and comforting, which I think is a truly unique feature. Her writing also always manages to completely envelop me in the atmosphere of her novels and she's such an expert at inserting subtle, but poignant commentary on the historical periods her novels are set in. Plus, her characters ...more
I have mixed feelings about this book. I thought it was very boring for too long as nothing really happens in the first 250 pages. True, we get a very atmospheric description of the 1920's, the class system, the devastating result of WW-I on family life and on British society as a whole. However, 100 pages would have been quite enough to present the setting and tell us a silly romance story with lots of secret panting and sighing and groping in the pantry. By page 250 I was tempted to toss the b ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
Controversial, but I MUCH preferred this to Fingersmith. Very much looking forward to reading the rest of Waters's books. ...more
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the ending 3 53 Apr 25, 2021 03:47AM  
the ending 1 24 Jan 30, 2019 07:50PM  
So very disappointing 13 358 Nov 14, 2018 12:44AM  
Play Book Tag: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters- 4 Stars 4 32 Aug 12, 2017 01:00PM  

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Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel.

Articles featuring this book

Clandestine passion boils over in the suspenseful historical novel The Paying Guests, set in 1920s London following the upheaval of World War I.
17 likes · 21 comments
“I barely knew I had skin before I met you.” 1207 likes
“Some things are so frightful that a bit of madness is the only sane response. You know that, don’t you?” 37 likes
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