When my friend Terry loaned me the best-selling book, “The Paying Guests” by Sarah Waters, she told me nothing about the plot or characters so I started reading with no preconceived notions as to whether I would like it or not. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not. How’s that for an assessment.
“The Paying Guests” is set in a suburb of London, England in the 1920s. A mother and her twenty-six-year-old spinster daughter are forced to rent out some of the rooms of their once-grand Victorian home in order to make ends meet. The mother and daughter were left broke after the father died and both brothers were killed in the war. The main character, Frances presents as a strong and practical woman who stoically takes over the duties of housekeeper, cook and maid now that they can no longer afford help. When a young married couple rent two upstairs rooms and create a little home for themselves, life takes on a different character for everyone in their circle.
As I began reading, I enjoyed the descriptions of domestic life in England at that time (at the same time as current Downton Abbey episodes). The manners, standards and protocols where quite different from today. But as I continued, the level of minutia became onerous. On one hand I was tempted to skip pages, but was afraid I might miss something vital to the developing plot so I plodded on. Then I could see why my friend didn’t volunteer any information about the book when she gave it to me.
The book is well-written, rather tedious at times but somehow compelling. It’s a mystery, a time capsule, a tragedy and a love story. It’s also about the societal changes taking place in the world following the First World War. It’s a good read and that’s all I’m going to say. You can judge for yourself.