The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


“The Paying Guests”  is the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Sarah Waters.

Set in 1922, in Camberwell, London, we are introduced to Mrs Wray, a widow, and her daughter, Frances. They have had to dismiss their servants and have decided that the only way they can maintain their home is to take in lodgers. Shortly after advertising their rooms to let, their first “paying guests” move in.

Leonard and Lilian Barber are a young couple, of a lower social class than the Wrays, but this did not prevent a friendship forming between Frances and Lilian. It is this friendship which plays a central role in the novel. To say more about the plot would spoil the story for other readers, but there are several twists and turns as the story develops.

What I love about Sarah Waters’ work is her ability to create authenticity. The time and place aspect of this novel are perfect, in my opinion. You could be living in London in 1922…..the descriptions, the speech, the attitudes all ring true. I feel that the author has researched the period with great thoroughness, so that you are effortlessly plunged into the period. Actually, if you read this novel “The Night Watch” and “The Little Stranger”, all by Sarah Waters, you would gain considerable insight into life in the 1920s, the Second World War years and post-war England.

Although this is a long book and there have been some who have thought it slow paced in places, I didn’t find that it dragged or bored me. I think the deep insight into the characters and their relationships, plus the authentic details, were so interesting. The writing flowed and as “the plot thickened”, I could not put it down.

All in all, another wonderful novel by Sarah Waters!


Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel. It was during the process of writing her thesis that she thought she would write a novel; she began as soon as the thesis was complete.


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