The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters

The Paying GuestsIt’s no secret that I love me some Sarah Waters, so when my dear friend Amy picked this book for our book club I was super excited. I looked at the high page count, figured it would take me about two weeks to read it on breaks at work, and started it at the appropriate time.

And then I finished it in one week, on breaks at work, and I was like, oh no, what am I going to do for a WHOLE WEEK while I wait for book club? Thank goodness there are other books in the world!

So yes, it seems like a long book, but it’s a super quick read, at least once it gets going. We start by meeting our protagonist, a Miss Wray, who lives with her mother in England in 1922. The war having taken the rest of their family in one way or another, the Wrays are a bit down on their luck and so have decided to let out most of their upstairs floor to lodgers, or, if we’re being polite, “paying guests.” What a strange way of being polite.

Anyway, said guests, the Barbers are a young married couple who don’t terribly much like each other but what are you gonna do in England in 1922 except stay unhappily married? Well, if you’re a lady in a Sarah Waters book (spoiler? Probably not…) you are going to have a love affair with your lady landlord. A very sexy love affair. Which I read on breaks at work. I rather recommend against that…

Miss Wray and Mrs. Barber spend most of the book sneaking off and having assignations and generally having fun, but then, because again, Sarah Waters, things go terribly horribly wrong and the tone of the book becomes completely different and I kind of actually liked this part of the book better because it had more semblance of plot and excitement but really the whole thing is super great.

I love the way Waters plays with her characters, making them seem sort of one-note at first but then delving slowly into the backstories that have brought them to this place in the novel. I also love how well she sets her scenes; I felt throughout the novel like I knew exactly how the house was set up and where everyone was at a given time so I knew just how worried to be about the things that were happening in one room or another. And, of course, I enjoyed the sneaky history lessons I got here with respect to post-war sentiment, being a lesbian at that time, the English legal system, and especially class structures and conflicts.

There is a lot going on in this book, is what I’m saying, and it’s lovely and wonderful and you should probably go read this immediately. But not at work. It’s weird at work.

Recommendation: For fans of Sarah Waters, lesbian love affairs, and gorgeous writing.

Rating: 9/10

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

I mentioned on Sunday that I was reading and greatly enjoying this book, and while it took me several days longer than I thought it would to finish it, I did end up retaining that enjoyment throughout. So, yay! Of course, it’s no Fingersmith, but I think I was plenty warned about that going in. 🙂

So this is a creepy little story that I still think is most closely related to The Fall of the House of Usher and The Haunting of Hill House, largely because the house itself is a main character of the book. On the Poe side, you also have a house-going-mad/family-going-mad connection; on the Jackson side you have people being drawn to this house like flies to flypaper (that is, reluctantly at first, but then SMOOSH).

But of course, this isn’t either of those books, so many other things happen. The general plot here is that our intrepid narrator, a Dr. Faraday, finds himself the new family doctor of the Ayreses, who live in an awesome house called Hundreds Hall that Faraday has been attracted to since he was a child. It’s a beauty — or it was until World War II happened and all the money went away and Mrs. Ayres and her two children and her two servants couldn’t keep the thing up properly. Faraday is having fun hanging out in his idolized house and being friends with high society people, right up until things start to go CRAZY. And by CRAZY, I just mean that some bad things start to happen, like dogs biting and war veterans going a little daft, and strange smudges show up and no one who actually lives in Hundreds actually likes being there all that much, but Faraday just thinks that they’re all a little touched in the head, there’s nothing creepy at all about mirrors walking on their own or the telephone ringing in the dead of night with no one on the other end.

Ahem. It’s a little creepy. And the creepiest part of all of it is that you’re never quite sure what’s actually going on. I, at least, was like, “Oh, the house is haunted. Or maybe it’s not. No, it definitely is. No, that’s crazy, everyone else is just haunted,” for pretty much the whole book.

And I thought that everything resolved itself quite appropriately (if not terribly informatively) at the end of chapter 14. But then there is a tiny little epilogue chapter, which is something that I hate, and which is not really especially useful here, so I recommend you just go ahead and skip that and know that nothing really happens after the end of chapter 14. 🙂

Recommendation: For fans of Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, other people who do interesting psychologically scary stories. Not for people who like plots wrapped up with a bow.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Book Addiction
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith is an odd sort of book. It is really spectacularly long (500-ish pages, which is a lot to me), and for long stretches there isn’t much in the way of action, and there’s not a ton of character development or anything, but I’m still kind of in love with it.

This is probably because it is Victorian-inspired and therefore a little ridiculous and also crazy. The book is split into three parts, and the first is fairly boring and took me a long time to get through. But basically there are some thief-types, and one of them convinces another, called Sue, to do a sweet little undercover gig that’ll earn Sue a bazillionty twelve dollars (I think that’s the exchange rate on 3000 pounds circa 1900, yes?), and she goes to do it. Yay. But all the while, Sue is like, “I did this and this and this other thing, and if only I had known then what I know now!” and I was like, tell me more, but she doesn’t, and then at the end of the first part it’s made relatively clear and I was like, “Damn.”

Seriously. An excellent finish… and then there’s more! Two whole more parts! And there are more crazy twists and turns and scandal and babies and knives (not together) and madhouses and escapes and if this run-on sentence isn’t intriguing you in the least bit, you’re probably not going to like the book.

But I did very much like it, and in fact while looking for the image for this post I found out that there is a BBC adaptation of this book and I immediately added it to my Netflix queue. I am very interested to see how some of the scenes in this book get adapted to the screen, and how much of the first part gets cut in favor of scandal and pretty dresses.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
The Written World
Trish’s Reading Nook
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.