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The Paying Guests

On sale

28th August 2014

Price: £10.99

IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2016

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Selected: ebook / ISBN-13: 9780349004594

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This novel from the internationally bestselling author of The Little Stranger, is a brilliant ‘page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London of the verge of great change’ (Guardian)

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.

For 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. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

This is vintage Sarah Waters: beautifully described with excruciating tension, real tenderness, believable characters, and surprises. It is above all a wonderful, compelling story.

‘You will be hooked within a page . . . At her greatest, Waters transcends genre: the delusions in Affinity (1999), the vulnerability in Fingersmith (2002), the undercurrents of social injustice and the unexplained that underlie all her work, take her, in my view, well beyond the capabilities of her more seriously regarded Booker-winning peers. But The Paying Guests is the apotheosis of her talent; at least for now. I have tried and failed to find a single negative thing to say about it. Her next will probably be even better. Until then, read it, Flaubert, Zola, and weep’ -Charlotte Mendelson, Financial Times


Ruth Rendall, Guardian
I raced through it, breathing fast and when I had finished had to reread parts of the wonderful early chapters. I don't like historical novels but this is the exception. I shall let a few months go by and then read it all over again with, I'm sure, undiminished pleasure
A gold mine of period detail, from class snobbery to sex - but with timeless urgency when it comes to love
A page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change
Zoe Strachan, Sunday Herald
The Paying Guests reminded me just how clever it is to create characters that captivate through their adventures in a world so well-realised that you can almost reach out and touch it
Vanity Fair
A seductive thriller
Waters is a gifted storyteller with a way of bringing historical eras to life... With the swiftly shifting mores of post-war British society as a backdrop, she once again provides a singular novel of psychological tension, emotional depth and historical detail
William Leith, Evening Standard
Super gripping... There is a huge momentum to this story
Charlotte Mendelson, Financial Times
You will be hooked within a page . . . At her greatest, Waters transcends genre: the delusions in Affinity (1999), the vulnerability in Fingersmith (2002), the undercurrents of social injustice and the unexplained that underlie all her work, take her, in my view, well beyond the capabilities of her more seriously regarded Booker-winning peers. But The Paying Guests is the apotheosis of her talent; at least for now. I have tried and failed to find a single negative thing to say about it. Her next will probably be even better. Until then, read it, Flaubert, Zola, and weep
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An absorbing character study [and] expertly paced and gripping psychological narrative... Waters brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places
Washington Post
You open The Paying Guests and immediately surrender to the smooth assuredness of Sarah Waters's silken prose... A novel that initially seems as if it might have been written by E.M. Forster darkens into something by Dostoevsky or Patricia Highsmith. It also becomes unputdownable... a seriously heart-pounding roller-coaster ride
Juliet Nicolson, Evening Standard, Books of the Year
An uninterruptable joy of a novel . . . Sarah Waters at her tip-top best
Viv Albertine, Telegraph
You know you are in the hands of a skilful, confident writer when you read a Sarah Waters book. She slowly reels you in. She weaves plots and themes that creep up and entangle you while you are innocently following her characters. They go about their shadowy business and by the time you raise your head from the page to take a breath, you're hooked
Raunchy, romantic and thoroughly entertaining... Another triumph for Sarah Waters
Entertainment Weekly
Waters is an absolute master of pulse-pounding historical fiction
Brilliantly involving . . . juicy, beautifully observed and not afraid to be explicit
Globe and Mail
Gripping... Sarah Waters is, quite simply, a marvelous writer... with complete mastery over her material
A beautifully observed tale of murder, suspense, crumbling class distinctions and steamy lesbian love in post-Edwardian London
New Yorker
Waters has always been attracted to sensationalist plots, and this novel progresses through at least two: a secret love affair between two women and a murder trial. But the novel is really about tiny changes in feeling, often evoked in gorgeous simile
Tracy Chevalier, Observer
Another wild ride of a novel . . . magnetic storytelling
Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
A nod towards Little Dorrit also seems perceptible in the book's quiet ending amid the bustle and clamour of London. Unillusioned but tentatively hopeful, it is a beautifully gauged conclusion to a novel of ambitious reach and triumphant accomplishment
With the intricate plotting of Dickens and the gothic textures of the novels of the Bronte sisters, Waters blurs the lines of Victorian fiction by bringing the hidden sexual world into the light, reframing erotic secrets in marvels of pseudo-Victorian crafting... exquisite
She gives us a poignant love story which symbolically sees in the death of the old order, the death of the old fashioned husband and maybe the birth of an era of love without secrets
Kirkus (starred review)
An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain - with really hot sex... Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight... until the last page, the reader will have no idea what's going to happen
USA Today
A delicious hothouse of a novel... There's palpable tension from page one, so buckle up and prepare for a wild ride... channels the past via E.M. Forster, Dickens and Tolstoy, quickened with a dollop of contemporary Dennis Lehane noir
Sunday Express
A triumph: spellbinding, profound and almost problematically addictive... Waters is so powerful a narrator, so in command of her material as she twists, defies and confronts without using cheap tricks, that she could make us believe anything... Morally complex, atmospheric, romantic and psychologically deep, The Paying Guests is an astonishing achievement... a beautiful and brilliant work by a consummate storyteller
Los Angeles Times
Waters masterfully weaves true crime, domestic life and romantic passion into one of the best novels of suspense since Rebecca... diabolically clever... with one of the hottest sex scenes ever to be set in a scullery
Jacqueline Wilson, Sunday Times
Absolutely brilliant
Toronto Star
A heart-crushing... utterly engrossing tale
Wall Street Journal
A tour de force of precisely observed period detail and hidden passions
Sunday Times, Fiction Book of the Year
This novel magnificently confirms Sarah Waters's status as an unsurpassed fictional recorder of vanished eras and hidden lives
Philip Hensher, Guardian
A sumptuously subdued story of making do and getting by after the great war
Rachel Joyce, Observer, Books of the Year
The Paying Guests is so evocative and compelling that all the time I was reading, I had a feeling it was me who had done something terrible, instead of her characters
Scotland on Sunday
The novel's remarkable depth of field - from its class-ridden background to its individuals' peccadilloes - is sharply portrayed by an author writing at her best. Waters's 20-20 vision perceives the interior world of her characters with rare acuity in a prose style so smooth it pours down the page in a book to be prized
Bay Area Reporter
It has the pacing of a thriller, and the atmosphere, period setting and class-consciousness of truly informed historical fiction
Jane Shilling, Evening Standard
A masterpiece of social unease . . . It isn't so much the plot that makes you read on - the novel's armature is a comparatively uncomplicated suspense narrative but barnacled to it is an astonishing accretion of detail . . . A virtuoso feet of storytelling
Lionel Shriver, New Statesman, Books of the Year
Sumptuous... The writing is impeccable... A joy in every respect
The Economist (Intelligent Life)
Waters's page-turning prose conceals great subtlety. Acutely sensitive to social nuance, she keeps us constantly alert . . . From a novelist who has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, this is a winner
Chicago Tribune
A pulse-pounder of a novel that feels personal and raw even while it delivers the genre goods... Waters remains a master of her genre, the historical novel rewritten as a dissection of the individual conscience... undeniably fascinating
Daily Mail
Sickeningly tense - and thumpingly good
Waters is acutely alive to the way domestic interiors can mirror psychological ones... I read the topsy turvey courtroom denouement with genuine wonder at the virtuosity of its unravelling, the emotional subtlety of its implications about how people linger in others. Such intelligence is indeed thrilling
Literary Review
The Paying Guests demonstrates the writerly qualities for which Waters is esteemed, proving as 'fantastically moody and resonant', in terms of the rendering of domestic space, as a novel the author herself described as such and which she once said she would like to have written: Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca
Boston Globe
Weaves her characteristic threads of historical melodrama, lesbian romance, class tension, and sinister doings into a fabric of fictional delight that alternately has the reader flipping pages as quickly as possible, to find out what happens next, and hesitating to turn the page, for fear of what will happen next
Library Journal
Moody and atmospheric... keeps you guessing until the very end
Pitch perfect... powered by queer longing, defiant identity politics, and lusty, occasionally downright kinky sex
Three novels for the price of one... a meticulously observed comedy of awkward manners, a story of torrid, forbidden trysts conducted behind a façade of conventional feminine respectability, and a tense tale of crime, mystery and suspense that culminates in a nail-biting courtroom drama