The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests
Genre : Fiction
Published : 29 Aug 2014 - Virago
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, and how devastatingly, the disturbances will reach…


As events progress through risky passion, violent death, terrified efforts to evade detection and a nail-biting murder trial, Waters pulls you into a narrative tingling with suspense. Resurrecting early 1920s London and peopling it with intensely believable characters, this novel magnificently confirms her status as an unsurpassed fictional recorder of vanished eras and hidden lives.

The Times, Fiction Book of the Year

The experience of reading Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests lingers in my memory as one of the most sumptuous periods of this summer....the novel segues gracefully from a sizzling romance between two women to nail-biting crime fiction....The writing is impeccable. A joy in every respect.

Lionel Shriver, New Statesman Books of the Year

The extraordinary writing keeps the pages turning. A subtle, complex triumph.

Times, Historical Fiction of the Year

Waters has become a virtuoso historical novelist… Waters has created both a page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change.

The Guardian

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters 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.

Rachel Joyce, Observer Books of the Year 2014

The Paying Guests is an uninterruptable joy of a novel. Set in a genteel London guest house during emotionally and financially precarious post-First World War Britain, the story is about money, class, men, women, tenderness, passion, brutality, loyalty, brilliantly integral historical detail and masses of unabashed sex: it’s Sarah Waters at her tip-top best.

Evening Standard, Books of The Year

Perhaps Water’s most impressive accomplishment is the authentic feel she achieves, that the telling – whether in its serious, exciting, comic or sexy passages – has no modern tinge.

NY Times Book Review

Some novels are so good, so gripping or shattering that they leave you uncertain whether you should have ever started them.... In The Paying Guests Sarah Waters has written both a beautifully delineated love story and a darkly suspenseful psychological novel. I’ve been coy about revealing too much about how the plot develops, I will just whisper that the reader is in for a seriously heart-pounding roller-coaster ride."<br />

The Washington Post

Begin The Paying Guests and you’ll 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 more akin to the works of Dostoevsky or Patricia Highsmith. In The Paying Guests, Waters has produced a beautifully delineated love story and a darkly suspenseful psychological tale.

Washington Post, Ten Best Books of 2014

'Another masterpiece of love, lust, and suspense from Sarah Waters... How can one book be... so utterly unputdownable? Having been born in a rooming house I resonated wildly with the squalid claustrophobia of shared accommodations, but Waters is such a good story-teller that you will be sucked in, regardless of how posh your background.

Slate, Best Books of 2014

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

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.

Scotland on Sunday

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.

Jane Shilling Evening Standard

She give(s) 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.


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.

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

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.

Literary Review

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.

Intelligent Life, The Economist

An uninterruptable joy of a novel . . . Sarah Waters at her tip-top best.

Juliet Nicolson, Evening Standard

Another wild ride of a novel . . . [I was] helplessly pulled along by the magnetic storytelling.

Tracy Chevalier, Observer

Sarah Waters is, quite simply, one of our greatest writers.

Joanna Briscoe, Sunday Express

Brilliantly involving . . . juicy, beautifully observed [and] not afraid to be explicit.


A sumptuously subdued story of making do and getting by after the great war.

Philip Hensher, Guardian

Absolutely brilliant.

Jacqueline Wilson, Sunday Times

A page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change.


Waters is brilliant.

The Times

A triumph.

Woman & Home

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