The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

Waters is, quite rightly, a bestselling author with legions of devoted fans.

PayingGuestsCoverWaters is, quite rightly, a bestselling author with legions of devoted fans. They won’t be disappointed in her new book.

I think I should state right now that, although I’ve read her before (Tipping the Velvet), I am not in one of those legions. I admire, like, enjoy reading her work, but a fan I am not.

This is set in the 1920s and all of society is feeling the pinch. Frances, who lives with her mother in a crumbling beast of a house in a genteel part of London, comes to the unhappy conclusion that they must take in paying guests (so much nicer than ‘lodgers’) and so enters Lillian and Leonard.

It makes for an uncomfortable living arrangement: the mother moves bedrooms to the ground floor and there are awkward moments in the shared outside WC. (I cannot quite imagine the horror of that.)

Lillian (soon to become Lily) and her husband are of the ‘"clerk class" and Frances finds herself drawn into a friendship with Lily, with quite disastrous results.

The devil is in the details here. And although the plot seemed obvious to me from the start, it absolutely didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.  I, too, became entranced with Lily and yearned for Frances  - who is a capable, independent woman - to break free of the ghastly trappings of a middle-class life where single women are called "spinsters" and the scrubbing of floors is deemed an embarrassment, as it proves they are too poor for a servant.

Crikey. Perhaps I’m becoming a fan.