|Cover artist||Duncan Spilling|
The Paying Guests is a 2014 novel by Welsh author Sarah Waters. It was shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fictionand named "Fiction Book of the Year" by The Sunday Times who said that "this novel magnificently confirms Sarah Waters' status as an unsurpassed fictional recorder of vanished eras and hidden lives."
The book is set in 1922 in Camberwell.where spinster Frances lives with her genteel mother Mrs Wray and mourns the death of her brothers in the Great War. Her father has died leaving considerable debts and they are obliged to take in lodgers: Lilian and Leonard Barber of the "clerk class". The guests bring with them colour, fun and music but also stir dangerous desires in Frances.
Waters wrote "Having set my two previous books in the 1940s I thought I’d venture back a couple of decades, and in the pursuit of information about British domestic life in the interwar years I began looking at murder cases; I went to them purely, really, for the sake of their incidental detail. But two cases caught my attention, that of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters in 1922, and of Alma Rattenbury and Percy Stoner in 1935 – both cases involving a husband, his wife and her young male lover, in which a moment’s reckless violence had fatal consequences for almost everyone concerned."And in an interview with The New York Times "I thought how interesting it would be if the lover was a female lover". Waters continues "The impact of the First World War was to shake things up enormously, loosening up old mores, fashions and behaviours. The early ’20s were like the waist of an hourglass. Lots of things were hurtling toward it and squeezing through it and then hurtling out the other side."
"I wanted The Paying Guests, above all, to achieve two things: to evoke, convincingly, the intricate fabric of interwar domesticity; and then to set that fabric thrumming with desire, transgression and moral crisis".
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