We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

The Paying Guests

IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2016

Buy Now:

Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781405531740

Price: £18.99

Disclosure: If you buy products using the retailer buttons above, we may earn a commission from the retailers you visit.

‘I raced through it, breathing fast and when I had finished had to reread parts of the wonderful early chapters. I don’t like historical novels but this is the exception. I shall let a few months go by and then read it all over again with, I’m sure, undiminished pleasure’ Ruth Rendall, Guardian

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.

What's Inside

Read More Read Less


A sumptuously subdued story of making do and getting by after the great war
Philip Hensher, Guardian
The Paying Guests demonstrates the writerly qualities for which Waters is esteemed, proving as 'fantastically moody and resonant', in terms of the rendering of domestic space, as a novel the author herself described as such and which she once said she would like to have written: Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca
Literary Review
The novel's remarkable depth of field - from its class-ridden background to its individuals' peccadilloes - is sharply portrayed by an author writing at her best. Waters's 20-20 vision perceives the interior world of her characters with rare acuity in a prose style so smooth it pours down the page in a book to be prized
Scotland on Sunday
Waters's page-turning prose conceals great subtlety. Acutely sensitive to social nuance, she keeps us constantly alert . . . From a novelist who has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, this is a winner
Intelligent Life (The Economist)
A masterpiece of social unease . . . It isn't so much the plot that makes you read on - the novel's armature is a comparatively uncomplicated suspense narrative but barnacled to it is an astonishing accretion of detail . . . A virtuoso feet of storytelling
Jane Shilling, Evening Standard
A triumph
Woman & Home
Fiction book of the year This novel magnificently confirms [Sarah Waters's] status as an unsurpassed fictional recorder of vanished eras and hidden lives
Sunday Times
Another wild ride of a novel . . . [I was] helplessly pulled along by the magnetic storytelling
Tracy Chevalier, Observer
An uninterruptable joy of a novel . . . Sarah Waters at her tip-top best
Juliet Nicolson, Evening Standard
You know you are in the hands of a skilful, confident writer when you read a Sarah Waters book. She slowly reels you in. She weaves plots and themes that creep up and entangle you while you are innocently following her characters. They go about their shadowy business and by the time you raise your head from the page to take a breath, you're hooked
Viv Albertine, Telegraph
Waters is brilliant
The Times
You will be hooked within a page . . . At her greatest, Waters transcends genre: the delusions in Affinity (1999), the vulnerability in Fingersmith (2002), the undercurrents of social injustice and the unexplained that underlie all her work, take her, in my view, well beyond the capabilities of her more seriously regarded Booker-winning peers. But The Paying Guests is the apotheosis of her talent; at least for now. I have tried and failed to find a single negative thing to say about it. Her next will probably be even better. Until then, read it, Flaubert, Zola, and weep
Charlotte Mendelson, Financial Times
Absolutely brilliant
Jacqueline Wilson, Sunday Times
Sickeningly tense - and thumpingly good
Daily Mail
Brilliantly involving . . . juicy, beautifully observed [and] not afraid to be explicit
Super-gripping . . . There is a huge momentum to this story
William Leith, Evening Standard
The Paying Guests reminded me just how clever it is to create characters that captivate through their adventures in a world so well-realised that you can almost reach out and touch it
Zoe Strachan, Sunday Herald
A page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change
In a remarkable combination, Juliet Stevenson enlivens Sarah Waters's rich, intimate character study set in 1920s London. In the genteel neighborhood of Champion Hill, Frances Wray and her mother are forced to take in "paying guests"--Leonard and Lilian Barber--to maintain their household after the war. Using a variety of British accents, Stevenson makes class and regional distinctions clear, bringing depth to the many characters and what divides them. As the romantic relationship between Frances and Lilian evolves, Stevenson conveys their sense of urgency and isolation with expert pacing. Flawless are the passages of confrontation between characters, as Stevenson never hesitates to modulate her tone, adjust her pace, or employ a deliberate pause to bring the listener in closer. An authentic, stirring performance.
The Paying Guests is so evocative and compelling that all the time I was reading, I had a feeling it was me who had done something terrible, instead of her characters
Rachel Joyce, Observer
She give(s) us a poignant love story which symbolically sees in the death of the old order, the death of the old fashioned husband and maybe the birth of an era of love without secrets
Sarah Waters is, quite simply, one of our greatest writers
Joanna Briscoe, Sunday Express
Sumptuous . . . The writing is impeccable. A joy in every respect
Lionel Shriver, New Statesman
A nod towards Little Dorrit also seems perceptible in the book's quiet ending amid the bustle and clamour of London. Unillusioned but tentatively hopeful, it is a beautifully gauged conclusion to a novel of ambitious reach and triumphant accomplishment
Peter Kemp, Sunday Times
I raced through it, breathing fast and when I had finished had to reread parts of the wonderful early chapters. I don't like historical novels but this is the exception. I shall let a few months go by and then read it all over again with, I'm sure, undiminished pleasure
Ruth Rendall, Guardian