Review: The Paying Guests

Title: The Paying Guests 20821087

Author: Sarah Waters

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

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. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life — or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Review: Every once in a while a reader is left with uncertainty over what to make of a book upon its completion. In the instance of The Paying Guests, I am left to wonder how can something so beautifully written be so painfully dull?

I am a reader with a great appreciation for the written word, and Sarah Waters’ is the creator of stunning prose. What failed her, unfortunately, are her characters and the lack of connection that could be drawn with them. Did Frances even have a personality to remark upon? The story is told from her perspective, yet I leave with very little knowledge of her or where she could go from the point at which I left her. The only time I took a bit of an interest in her as a character were her initial psychological dilemmas over an event that takes place; but even those began to grow grating and repetitive before long. Frances was not the only character like this — all of them were.

The situation the characters find themselves in at the halfway point of the book was also not much of a surprise since the reader will suspect early on that an event of such a nature is to occur. However, I will say that I felt grateful for this event whether it was obvious or not because it gave the story a much needed sense of urgency. I can predict countless readers abandoning this book based upon the dullness of the first-half, nor would I begrudge them the decision now that I have finished it and am still left to wonder my opinion of the story as a whole.

Yes, I continued to read because I was morbidly interested in the outcome of the finale. But was it really enough? I don’t think so.

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