Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Paying Guests

I've never read Sarah Waters before but I am hooked now and have already put another of her books on hold. I seriously couldn't put this book down. The story takes place in post-WWI London, and the author does a great job of depicting the bleak times--the war-injured veterans, the disillusioned and unemployed, the devastated economy, class tensions.  Frances Wray is a single woman in her late 20s, who lives with her mother and is trying to cope with life after the war--and the deaths of her two brothers,  the financial mess her dead father has left behind, and the challenges of keeping a house without servants.

Hoping to be able to stay in their house,  Frances and her mother are forced to take in lodgers ('paying guests') to help pay the bills. When a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Barber,  move in to the house, the Wrays must make adjustments to their life, and Frances' dreary life takes a great big turn-- with far-reaching and devastating consequences. This is a finely written story of domestic life, class structure, and moral dilemmas,  that weaves in romantic love and true crime.  It's a long book, maybe a little too long, but with many twists and turns that keep you guessing until the very end.

“...She worked briskly and efficiently, taking her brush and pan from the drawing-room to the top of the stairs and making her way back down, a step at a time; after that she filled a bucket with water, fetched her kneeling-mat, and began to wash the hall floor. Vinegar was all she used. Soap left streaks on the black tiles. The first, wet rub was important for loosening the dirt, but it was the second bit that really counted, passing the wrung cloth over the floor in one supple, unbroken movement... There! How pleasing each glossy tile was. The gloss would fade in about five minutes as the surface dried; but everything faded. The vital thing was to make the most of the moments of brightness. There was no point dwelling on the scuffs.” 

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