The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters may well be one of the most anticipated new novels of this autumn. I know it was high up on my lists of must reads. Waters is known for her beautifully written and well researched historical novels that highlight sapphic relationships. The Paying Guests follows this trend with a love story that crosses class lines in post World War I London.
I’ve read almost all of Water’s novels, but I must admit that The Paying Guests did not rank among my favorites. I had problems settling into the book. The question is, was it me or was it the book that was the problem? As is to be expected, the writing was wonderful. Each sentence was so finely crafted that on a sentence to sentence basis it took my breath away. The characters were also complex and highly nuanced. The Paying Guests is more of a love story than I remember her other novels being. Perhaps that is where the problem lays.
Praise aside, it took me a good hundred pages to really get into The Paying Guests, though once I was in, I was hooked. Until I wasn’t. The middle section of the book is full of great twists and turns. Tension is built up and released time and again. I was on the edge of my seat, staying up way too late reading, until it started to drag. Just as it took me a while to get into the book, I felt like it was never going to end. Just give us resolution already! I wanted to yell.
In spite of all my complaints aside, Sarah Waters is Sarah Waters and The Paying Guests is a beautifully written novel. Like her many other novels, I imagine this one will be nominated for the most prestigious prizes. But if you have not read Waters before, this may not be the starting point I’d recommend. For me, this was not her best book.
Who would like this book? The Paying Guests is for lovers of literary fiction. Waters ranks up there with Margaret Atwood as one of the best writers we have.