The extraordinary bestselling author, who wrote three astonishing Victorian novels before moving to the 1940s with The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, now turns to the 1920s.
'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.
Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has been shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes and has won The South Bank Show Award and The Somerset Maugham Award. Four of her novels have been adapted for television. She has been named as author of the Year four times - by the Booksellers Association, Sunday Times, Waterstone's and The British Book Awards.
Absolutely brilliant — Jacqueline Wilson, Sunday Times
A page-turning melodrama and a fascinating portrait of London on the verge of great change — Guardian
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)
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
A sumptuously subdued story of making do and getting by after the great war — Philip Hensher, Guardian
Brilliantly involving . . . juicy, beautifully observed [and] not afraid to be explicit — Metro
A triumph — Woman & Home
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
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
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 — Independent
Waters is brilliant — The Times
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
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
Sarah Waters is, quite simply, one of our greatest writers — Joanna Briscoe, Sunday Express
Another wild ride of a novel . . . [I was] helplessly pulled along by the magnetic storytelling — Tracy Chevalier, Observer
Sumptuous . . . The writing is impeccable. A joy in every respect — Lionel Shriver, New Statesman
An uninterruptable joy of a novel . . . Sarah Waters at her tip-top best — Juliet Nicolson, Evening Standard
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
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
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
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
Super-gripping . . . There is a huge momentum to this story — William Leith, Evening Standard
Sickeningly tense - and thumpingly good — Daily Mail
Waters is an author to cherish — Guardian
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
Masterly... delightful... tremendously vivid... Waters is a cracking storyteller — Tatler
Waters is not simply one of our best historical novelists, but one of our best novelists . . . sooner or later, she's going to be given the Booker. If you haven't already, start reading her now, and be one step ahead of the crowd — Independent on Sunday