I don’t think the day will ever come when I will see the name ‘Sarah Waters’ on a jacket cover and not want to own the book. I haven’t loved everything I’ve read of hers with the same passion, but have usually come pretty close. Thought “The Night Watch” was completely brilliant (10/10, what genius to start a book at the end and work backwards) and am a huge fan of “The Little Stranger” (10/10, although some friends have been less enchanted by this slow burning ghost story). I did struggle to enjoy “Fingersmith” at the time of reading (6/10, it was a long time ago and I missed the BBC adaptation, so maybe one of these days I will be in the fortunate position of feeling I can start over and re-read something I didn’t adore just to see if time has changed my perception of a certain work).
But I was very chuffed to open this latest tome and immerse myself with the newest offering, which has also been shortlisted for the Baileys’ prize this year. The beginning of the story is very atmospheric and rings true to its time, at least as someone born in the 1960s would imagine postwar Britain. As The Washington Post winsomely puts it :
“ You open The Paying Guests and immediately surrender to the smooth assuredness of Sarah Waters’s silken prose…”
Know exactly what you mean. There is, however, a section mid-way through the book where I felt the story had started to falter and lose its momentum. The whole book is also perhaps longer than it could be, so it runs the risk of feeling stodgy around the midriff (something I can empathise with entirely), but then it fortunately picks up again and it’s a fair gallop to the finishing post. The ending does not disappoint, but maybe there’s a whiff of damp squib about it? In retrospect, think I am being overlay harsh : bear with it, I think it is worth it, although I fear this work will fall short of the accolades of S.W.’s earlier writing.
Read in October 2014.
Rating : a restored 10/10
Shortlisted for the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2015, Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2015