The Paying Guests is the only Sarah Waters' novel I've read so far. I intend to read more. I skimmed other reviews before writing my own and was surprised by the fact that the main criticism was that this book didn't come up to her others. I'm looking forward to those.
I felt the book took a little while to get going. But once the relationship between Frances and Lilian began, the plot took off. I suppose it's necessary to understand Frances' relationship with her mother, with Christina, with the memory of her brother, and, of course, with Leonard as she gets to know the new tenants, but I think the early parts could have been a bit shorter.
The descriptions are wonderful. They give us readers a clear picture of what is being described while also letting us know what the characters think about the items. Here's an example when Frances sees the dress Lilian will be wearing to a party:
She found Lilian's bedroom door ajar, and could just glimpse Lilian beyond it: she was at the mirror, dressed in a frock that Frances had never seen before, the frock that she must have made for the party, a striking thing of white silk with a gauze overskirt, and with slender shoulder straps that left her arms and upper back bare. She was pushing a gold snake bangle over her wrists when she caught sight of Frances; she paused with it part-way up her arm as their gazes met through the glass. But at once she looked away, lowering her kohl-darkened eyelids, sliding the bangle higher, And what she said was, 'Here's Frances. Doesn't she look nice?”
The language is captivating, the attention to detail is wonderful, and enough of what the characters are thinking comes through to be intriguing.
The world we live in today is very different from the world of 1922. I loved the way this novel has characters with a 21st century perspective living in an early 20th century world. I also loved the way some of the characters couldn't live up to their best intentions. It's what makes them human.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions