It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work are demanding change. And in a genteel house in the south of the city, its inhabitants still recovering frothe paying guestsm the devastating losses of the First World War, life is about to be transformed.

Widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances  find themselves obliged to take in lodgers. The arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a young couple of the ‘clerk class’ brings unsettling things with it – gramophone music, colour, fun. Open doors offer glimpses of the newcomers’ habits.

As Francis and Lilian are drawn into an unexpected friendship, loyalties begin to shift. Secrets are confessed and dangerous desires are admitted. The most ordinary of lives, it seems, can explode into passion and drama.

If a bookclub’s year is set by the success of its first meeting, we are in for a beauty!

From ‘Loved it!’ to “Lacks direction’ and ‘Bloated narrative’ … these few comments sum up our group’s differing views of Sarah Waters’ latest novel The Paying Guests.

Our discussion focused mainly on Waters’ writing style. Some loved the way she is able to build tension and through narrative alone, create a perfect depiction of 1920s London … its people, class structure and political direction. Not an easy thing to do, but Waters does it not only well, but with real skill. The suppression experienced by Frances in England’s post war society is well represented and research for courtroom procedure spot on.

Some feel that Waters is a brave writer who has no fear in subscribing to the reader a duty of prediction and projection. No tidy little parcels tied up with bows and ribbons. Her characters and their situations read authentic, and as in real life, there are few precise outcomes. It is left to the reader to decide how such lives will continue.

This style of course, does not suit everyone. Some of the group found the novel too long and wordy. It lacked a sense of direction. The love triangle was found to be soppy and contrived, and altogether too predictable.

Once our diverging views were aired, we continued with a stimulating talk on domestic violence and the defining role of women in society throughout the centuries.

Hard to argue against the significance of a novel when it spawns such lively discussion … thank you ladies and welcome to another great year of reading!

 

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