The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781594633119
  • 576 Pages
  • Riverhead
  • Adult


From the bestselling author of The Little Stranger and Fingersmith, an enthralling novel about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London.

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.

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. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction, and here she has delivered again. A love story, a tension-filled crime story, and a beautifully atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place, The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters’s finest achievement yet.


Praise for The Paying Guests

“One of the greatest modern novelists… As in every Waters novel you will be hooked within a page… The Paying Guests reminds us of every great novel we’ve gasped or winced at, or loudly urged the protagonists through, and it does not relent… She can, it seems, do everything: the madness of love; the squalor of desire; the coexistence of devotion and annoyance; ‘the tangle of it all’… At her greatest, Waters transcends genre…The Paying Guests is the apotheosis of her talent…. I have tried and failed to find a single negative thing to say about it…Read it, Flaubert, Zola, and weep.” The Financial Times

“[A] pulse-pounder of a novel that feels…personal and raw…even while it delivers the genre goods…Waters remains a master of her genre, the historical novel rewritten as a dissection of the individual conscience… undeniably fascinating.” —The Chicago Tribune

“Outstanding. [The Paying Guests] is the work of an artist at the height of her powers… How difficult, and how admirable, to pull off an ending that both sates you and leaves you chomping for more… You feel as if an actual life were unfolding before you—a life that happens to be far more thrilling than most.” —Pop Matters

“Waters has become a virtuoso historical novelist… a page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change.” —The Guardian

“A masterpiece of social unease… so compellingly readable, that the temptation to finish the 500-odd pages of Waters’s novel at a sitting is powerful… a virtuoso feat of storytelling” — London Evening Standard

“Riveting, [Waters’] best yet…It will be an injustice if it doesn’t win one of the main literary prizes.” —The Daily Express (UK)

“Waters excels at presenting the raw interiority of a quietly heroic woman, slightly too ahead of her time… 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.” The Independent

“Fans of Sarah Waters’ previous novels know she is a gifted storyteller with a way of bringing historical eras to life… With the swiftly shifting mores of postwar British society as a back­drop, [she] once again provides a singular novel of psychological tension, emotional depth and his­torical detail.” —BookPage

“Waters’s page-turning prose conceals great subtlety. Acutely sensitive to social nuance, she keeps us constantly alert to the pain and passion churning under the ‘false, bright’ surface of gentility. From a novelist who has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, this is a winner” Intelligent Life

“A triumph: spellbinding, profound and almost problematically addictive… Waters is so powerful a narrator, so in command of her material as she twists, defies and confronts without using cheap tricks, that she could make us believe anything… Morally complex, atmospheric, romantic and psychologically deep, The Paying Guests is an astonishing achievement… a beautiful and brilliant work by a consummate storyteller” Sunday Express

“Far more than a tale of passion… 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

“The novel brilliantly evokes the shabby respectability and claustrophobic social demands of its post-war south London setting, and the conflicting emotions of its protagonists and star-crossed lovers” Quadrapheme

“One of Waters’s finest achievements lies in continuing to entice the reader through deft plotting, even as her characters grow arguably more human”Literary Review (UK)

“It’s easy to get so caught up in this quiet tale of suburban sapphic passion that you forget who’s masterminding it. Waters is at her best when she sends the plot on dizzying twists, and what seems at first to be a novel about repressed desire soon spirals madly into murder, adultery and betrayal… an absorbing read, rich in period detail and complex characters.” —The List (UK)

“So brilliantly unexpected, and so nerve-shreddingly tense, that it keeps the reader guessing until the very last paragraph” The Bookseller (UK)

“Will keep you turning the page to see just how tense things can get.” LibraryReads

“An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain—with really hot sex…Tension is high from the first paragraph…Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight…until the last page, the reader will have no idea what’s going to happen. Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An absorbing character study [and] expertly paced and gripping psychological narrative…Readers of Water’s previous novels know that she brings historical eras to life with consummate skill, rendering authentic details into layered portraits of particular times and places…breathtaking” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“Moody and atmospheric, this latest from three-time Booker Prize finalist Waters (The Little Stranger) has a rich historical setting…[and] keeps you guessing until the very end” —Library Journal