The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters
5 stars - um, don't have anything clever to put here
ALR Green - yippy terrier bounces and barks here and there
It's going to be difficult to describe what is so cool about this book without spoilers, but I will try.
London. 1922. The widowed Mrs. Wray and her twenty-something daughter, Francis, are having trouble making ends meet. With debts mounting, they reluctantly make the decision to take in lodgers. Enter Mr. and Mrs. Barber. A nice young couple eager to have their first home away from the prying eyes of family (their previous residence being with Mr. Barber's family).
For Francis and her mother, it's a huge adjustment. Three out of four rooms on the second floor are turned over the the Barbers with the fourth reserved as a bedroom for Francis. The arrangement imposes interaction between the lodgers and their landladies. There's a shared staircase, front door, and the water closet, located in the back yard, requires a trip through the Wray's kitchen. Big adjustment. How to manage the relationship? Shall they be friends? Pretend the other doesn't exist? While the Barbers seem to adapt quickly, it's more difficult for the Wrays to manage with strangers in their home.
And then what? Well, for the first couple of hundred pages (this is a long book of 564 pages), I had mixed feelings. I wasn't sure if I liked the book or not, but having read previous works of Ms. Waters, I hung in there.
Glad I did because the remaining pages consumed me. For real. So difficult to pry myself away. The book is all about Francis. The other characters come to life through her eyes only. Ms. Waters pulled me in to the machinations of Francis' mind without my even noticing it. Once you reach the point where you are sweating out decisions along with the main character, longing for her to say or do one thing or the other, anxiously awaiting outcomes, well, you're in it, right?
Let's just say, "stuff happens." Some stuff that is important only when it happens to you, some stuff that others will take notice of. Beyond that, I will reveal no more.
The dustcover reads "... the most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama." How true, because from the outside there is nothing extraordinary about any of the characters. But aren't our own lives, no matter how mundane, filled with the drama of our internal angst? At times I felt I was reading a Thomas Hardy novel as the characters tumbled into a chasm of consequences from the smallest of decisions. Sometimes a bit of Poe.
Did I like the story itself? I'm not sure. Does it matter? I was there, I was drawn in, seduced by the writing.