The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is one of the page turning-est, excruciatingly suspenseful books I’ve ever read. It is also one of the books most filled with minute, painstaking detail. It also made me blush. I loved it! I devoured it. It was over too quickly. Again, please.
It is after World War I and England is a different place. Fathers and sons are dead, or back from the war with no prospects and much anger. Gentility is crumbling. The middle class are going places they’ve never been before. Things are different for women — do you keep your old role or bob your hair? Things are different for everyone.
I am so moved by the way Waters shows not tells. A thousand tiny details. Reading by the dying light to save electricity, the mends mended in Frances’ underthings, red hands from too much housework. The father’s faux Jacobean furniture showing all you need to know about how he lived his life. Lillian’s fluff and feathers. The accused’s teeth.
I also appreciate my — unsureness? of the motivations and inherent goodness of every single character. The complexity is refreshing and very, very human. It’s been a week since I’ve finished the book and have been mulling over Frances and Lillian, and I still find certain of their actions inscrutable — in a good, rich, intense way. Like life. Life-like.
The book also asks some hard questions about World War I — about those who gave their lives, and those who were left to pick up the pieces. About responsibility.
It is also a book about freedom and life. Who gets to live? Who gets to live the way they wish to?
Like I said before — again, please. I know I turned the pages too quickly, my heart in my mouth. Bravo, Sarah Waters. Thank you, Sarah Waters.