Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Paying Guests

The year is 1922 and the widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances face an echoing house and mounting bills. Enter Mr and Mrs Barber, a young couple of the “clerk class”, to rent their spare rooms. The lines between landlady and lodgers start to blur when Frances and Lilian strike up a friendship to fill the hours.

We pass each other on the stairs. We meet on the landing. Everything happens on the landing. I had no idea landings could be so thrilling.

Set between the wars, the period is a fascinating one. So many of the young men were lost, with the women left behind. Frances and her mother have been left with a big house and bills to pay in a time where women were only just coming round to the idea of financial independence. Many of the men who returned from war, struggling to find employment, were bitter that the women had things better than them.

One things families like Frances’ could do was rent out rooms to lodgers; or paying guests as they called them to make them sound posher. I loved the chapters where they are getting used to the sounds upstairs, the invasion of privacy of having strangers in yours home but also the balance of allowing them to make the place their home too.

The minutiae of everyday life in the twenties is intricately described. It really wasn’t that long ago when all household chores were done by hand. The upkeep of a large house takes a lot of work, something families who had lost their staff during the war were coming to realise. We think of the twenties as a glamourous time but this book shows the other side of the coin.

The writing is maybe too descriptive, especially in places where it should be faster paced. It also means the book is too long in my opinion. The story drags out and loses some of its impact. The crime aspect of the story is also one that I’ve heard so many times before. Maybe the period and the people involved were different, but I just didn’t feel like I was reading anything new.

Was this, she thought, what happened when one made friends with a married woman? One automatically got the husband too? -like a crochet pattern, coming free with a magazine?

I was also disappointed it didn’t explore more about the political changes for women at the time. It was a period of great change and it hints at some things. At least Christina is living out a more modern life. Instead it is an intimate story of two people who become embroiled by fate but, I admit, I was expecting more from Sarah Waters.

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Also reviewed @ Fleur in her World



Book Source: Purchased

1 comment:

  1. yeah, I was expecting more from this book, too. I thought the period information was interesting up to a point, but after a while, I got the feeling that maybe the author did so much research and she didn't want to leave out anything, and that made the book drag for me. As did the overall lack of plot. Ultimately I was bored and skimmed the last 200 pages.

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