The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests Book Cover The Paying Guests
Sarah Waters
Historical Fiction
Penguin
2014

Recently I saw a ripple of excitement across social media: a new Sarah Waters book was coming out soon!! I thought: who? Which was surprising to me, since, as a librarian, I like to think I’m pretty well caught-up on the popular authors of the day. But of course, no one person can read everything. Still, given how excited many of my friends were about the release of The Paying Guests, I figured I should probably try reading it.

I was a little disheartened when I picked up my hold on it and discovered that it was a very long work of historical fiction set in 1920s England. I’m one of few Americans who isn’t mad for Downton Abbey–it’s just usually hard for me to enjoy period dramas. But still, I decided to give The Paying Guests a try, and I’m so glad I did. It’s the story of Frances Wray, a spinster who lives with her mother. Her brothers died in the Great War, and her father died shortly after, and as a result, the Wrays have fallen on hard times and must take in boarders to make ends meet. Their neighbors refer to the boarders as “paying guests” to make it seem classier.

At first, Frances is determined to go about life as normal, but her life quickly gets entwined with the drama their boarders, the Barbers bring with them. The Paying Guests is a beautifully-written story that combines a page-turning crime story with a tender romance. Waters’s historical details inform and shape the story without dragging it down. I would highly recommend The Paying Guests to anyone, but especially to those who already enjoy historical fiction.

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