The Paying Guests

  • by Sarah Waters
  • Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
  • 21 hrs and 29 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award 2014
There came the splash of water and the rub of heels as Mrs Barber stepped into the tub. After that there was a silence, broken only by the occasional echoey plink of drips from the tap....
Frances had been picturing her lodgers in purely mercenary terms - as something like two great waddling shillings. But this, she thought, was what it really meant to have paying guests: this odd, unintimate proximity, this rather peeled-back moment, where the only thing between herself and a naked Mrs Barber was a few feet of kitchen and a thin scullery door. An image sprang into her head: that round flesh, crimsoning in the heat.
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.
For 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. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.
This is vintage Sarah Waters: beautifully described with excruciating tension, real tenderness, believable characters, and surprises. It is above all a wonderful, compelling story.


See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful


Set in post world war one, Frances a one time radical suffragette now finds her life consumed by the drudgery of housework and family duty. Since the death of her brother and father, she is the main support for her mother, and their downward economic fortunes are her burden. To obtain an income, they let out part of their home to 'paying guests' and soon begins an unconventional love story. However within a short space of time a mixture of 'chaos, bad luck and blunder' results in some devastating consequences. What will happen? How will the characters endure and survive? How will things resolve?
Waters is an extremely good writer, particularly skilled at evoking a powerful sense of history. Usual Waters themes, of class, women's rights, and the stifling nature of 'social roles' for women and men, all appear in this book, and are powerfully portrayed. However, for me, although very well written, this book was overlong, and I found it repetitive. As circumstances for the characters spiralled from bad to worse it became stressful rather than gripping or enjoyable to read. By the time of the denouement I had really begun to dislike the characters to the extent that I didn’t totally care what had happened to them. This might be one book where an abridged version would have been better! I so wanted to like this book, but I can only say that I am relieved that it is over..............
Read full review

- Karen

A book full of surprises

The early chapters reminded me of Anita Brookner’s novels focussing on women of slender means living dreary, sheltered lives. The death of her father has left Frances and her mother short of money and reluctantly they have taken in a couple, Lillian and Leonard Barber, as paying guests. Set just after the First World War the author captures the sombre mood of the time and the nuances of class differences between the hosts and their paying guests. There are hints that Frances is not just the weary drudge of the early chapters but underneath is a woman of spirit who fought for woman’s rights.

Lulled into thinking that this will be a book of domestic and social minutia the narrative erupts into seething passions of stolen kisses and much more. As the author of Tipping the Velvet I shouldn’t have been surprised that the passions were among women. The vicissitudes of illicit love affairs and society’s unfair prejudices against unconventional love dominate the middle section of the book and are the backdrop to the surprising series of events that catapults the book into a crime novel culminating in a tense courtroom drama.

I found this an enthralling novel, well-written and full of surprises that gathers pace such that I couldn’t stop listening as the outcome is far from obvious. My only criticism is that it’s not necessary to portray male characters are caricatures of boorishness and insensitivity to idealize love among women.

Juliet Stevenson is a superb narrator and one of the reasons I chose this book.
Read full review

- Kirstine

Book Details

  • Release Date: 28-08-2014
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio UK