Audiobook Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 21 hrs, 28 mins
Published by Penguin Audio on September 16, 2014
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

From the best-selling author of The Little Stranger, 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' finest achievement yet.

Sarah Waters has been on my to-read list for-freaking-ever. I couldn’t pass up the review audiobook, especially since I’d heard such great things about Juliet Stevenson’s narration. Though The Paying Guests was an enjoyable lesson, I definitely chose the wrong Waters book to start with, since this one didn’t really end up being the type of story I typically enjoy, given that it’s all about infidelity and a mystery. Womp womp.

Let’s start with what I like about The Paying Guests. Most of all, I love the setting in 1920s England. It runs through some of the same dynamics of Downton Abbey, with the changing classes. Frances Wray and her mother were once well-to-do, but now, to stave off debt, they have to rent out part of their home to the nouveau riche. Frances has embraced her new role as landlady and found simple joys in her new chores. Her mother, on the other hand, feels uncomfortable with the whole ordeal and doesn’t like seeing Frances doing the work of the help.

Their new lodgers, Leonard and Lilian, however, are not bothered by this. They’re from a lower class, but have done quite well for themselves. They don’t see through the impressive size of the house to the fact that it’s slowly falling apart. They’re new enough to money to still be awed. Len, and Lilian too somewhat, are nosy sorts, curious about the people with whom they’re now living. Again, I think these dynamics are very interesting, because of the role reversal and the fact that such dissimilar people are thrown into such close acquaintance.

As you might expect from a Sarah Waters novel, Frances and Lilian inevitably begin an affair. Everything about it follows typical affair protocols. While I’m less bothered by infidelity in historical novels, 1920’s modern enough that I’m not as wont to overlook it. Plus, the real kicker is that, despite some admittedly intense sexual chemistry, I really have no faith in the relationship between Frances and Lilian. They’re both convinced it’s love, but I remain thoroughly unconvinced. In face, View Spoiler » I’m fairly certain this isn’t how I was meant to feel about their romance.

The murder mystery was just so typical, I guess, aside, perhaps, from the conclusion to it. The story reminded me fairly heavily of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, only about British lesbians. Due to the fact that I didn’t really care about their romance to start with, I very much did not care about the outcome of the investigation. Actually, the whole murder mystery plot made me like both Lilian and Frances less, because they make all the worst life choices all of the time.

Juliet Stevenson’s narration was delightful as promised. She’s a very solid narrator, and managed to make all the characters easy to distinguish, which can be tricky in a story so lengthy. Speaking of, the length of this book seemed really excessive, considering that the plot was so predictable. It’s not so much that I was bored, because I did enjoy listening to the audiobook, but I did feel like it was running on and on ad infinitum.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one for a Sarah Waters newbie, but it was pleasant enough on the whole. Unless you’re not picky about mysteries, The Paying Guests might be a struggle at times.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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2 responses to “Audiobook Review: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters”

  1. Meehhh. I like a good mystery, but I’m not too down with infidelity stories either. WoMan up and be honest, people!
    Alisa @ Papercuttts recently posted…‘Orhan’s Inheritance’ Knits Wounds ClosedMy Profile

  2. […] The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters, narrated by Juliet Stevenson review via Reader of Fictions […]

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