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Publisher's Summary

Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award 2014

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.

©2014 Sarah Waters (P)2014 Hachette Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Sarah Waters does it again...

[{ "answer" : "Yes -- the story is engrossing and tense and I'm not sure I would have reacted the same way had I read it from the page. Juliet Stevenson's reading makes the story breathe and sucks the listener straight in. ", "type" : "Overall", "question" : "Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why? ", "id" : 41, "typeString" : "overall" }, { "answer" : "", "type" : "Story", "question" : "What other book might you compare The Paying Guests to, and why?", "id" : 2, "typeString" : "story" }, { "answer" : "", "type" : "Performance", "question" : "Which character – as performed by Juliet Stevenson – was your favourite?", "id" : 26, "typeString" : "performance" }, { "answer" : "The reading of the most dramatic night was incredible -- so tense, so well-paced, so descriptive. Everything about that part of the book felt oppressive and riveting. ", "type" : "Genre", "question" : "Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?", "id" : 51, "typeString" : "genre" }, { "answer" : "", "type" : "Misc", "question" : "Any additional comments?", "id" : -1, "typeString" : "misc" } ]

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • rivkeh
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • 18-09-2014

Love!

[{ "answer" : "I loved the way the author portrayed the characters and built.a visual atmosphere", "type" : "Overall", "question" : "Would you listen to The Paying Guests again? Why?", "id" : 45, "typeString" : "overall" }, { "answer" : "Lilian and Frances, because of the way the tension was built between them, and the way they connected. It was a wonderful surprise to find that there was a same sex relationship embedded in the story, I love it when that happens!", "type" : "Story", "question" : "Who was your favorite character and why?", "id" : 6, "typeString" : "story" }, { "answer" : "I love this narrator. She expresses emotions effortlessly and her range of accents is engaging and convincing. Had just listened to her reading 'Apple Tree Yard' and loved it too. She is a true artist of voice.", "type" : "Performance", "question" : "What does Juliet Stevenson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?", "id" : 16, "typeString" : "performance" }, { "answer" : "I wanted to make it last!", "type" : "Genre", "question" : "Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?", "id" : 55, "typeString" : "genre" }, { "answer" : "Can't wait to read my next Sarah Waters :-)", "type" : "Misc", "question" : "Any additional comments?", "id" : -1, "typeString" : "misc" } ]

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Sharon
  • Preston, Australia
  • 04-03-2016

A story about love

This was a very long & somewhat difficult story about the difficulties and perils of relationships on many levels!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

great story

absorbing..want to hear it again, juliet has done a great job of narrating the characters, another great read from sarah waters!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Bec
  • 30-04-2015

Another gripping Sarah Water's story

I just LOVED this book! A complicated and secret relationship that has incredible and unforeseen consequences. This book is a love story, an historical account of life in England in the 1920s, a shocking crime and subsequent investigation and court case.

Viewed through modern eyes, the lovers' slow movement towards togetherness and willingness to sacrifice their own happiness was sad and frustrating, but that is not the end of the story.

I recommend this great love story, and even more so if you have enjoyed Sarah Water's other works.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Step back in time

I loved this book from beginning to end - Juliet Stevenson is a master of voice and captured the characters beautifully. You really get a sense of the era of the 1920s London as it is so well-written, with some interesting twists and turns in the plot.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant

At last a book I loved from start to finish. Now for more of this brilliant author and narrator. Thank you both.

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Gripping Thriller

I found The Paying Guests full of suspense and was unable to put it down.

From the first page to the final surprise ending, I was riveted and anxious to know what the final outcome would be.

I chose this book partly because it is read by Juliet Stevenson, whose voicing of the various characters is amazing, and because it is set in the 1920s.

This book would appeal to anyone who enjoys a riveting story set in another era, read by a brilliant actress.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Amanda
  • macquarie fields, Australia
  • 26-01-2015

Enjoyable

Wonderfully narrated. Author has an excellent sense of emotions and psychology. Might read more.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Amazing

What an awesomely narrated book!! Gripping story had me on the edg of my seat throughout the whole 21 hours

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Steve
  • 24-11-2014

To be a fly on the wall in 1922

If you could sum up The Paying Guests in three words, what would they be?

moving, thrilling, suspensful

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Paying Guests?

So Many, the ashtray, the verdict

Have you listened to any of Juliet Stevenson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Started off OK, but the more i listened, i thought Juliet really brought the characters to life.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The desparation of francies and Lillan to be happy

Any additional comments?

Started of a bit slow, But gradually it pulls you in. Sarah waters is just a great story teller.
Started to re listen again.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ms WS Rall
  • 30-10-2014

Fantastic

What made the experience of listening to The Paying Guests the most enjoyable?

Engaging, well written and wonderful characters.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Francis, she is a complex and interesting. Not predictable.

What about Juliet Stevenson’s performance did you like?

Her energy and different characters.

If you could take any character from The Paying Guests out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Francis

Any additional comments?

Excellent!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Julie
  • 28-09-2014

21 hours I will never recover

Made tragically boring by extreme length, introverted soul searching that took longer than real time and an array of seriously whiney and unattractive characters. I only continued to listen in the hopes of a last minute twist to the ending which, sadly, did not eventuate.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • wendy campbell
  • 07-07-2015

Disappointing

What was most disappointing about Sarah Waters’s story?

I loved all previous Sarah Waters books so I was shocked that this one was so dull, long winded and annoying.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • mgn
  • 01-05-2015

Keeps you engaged

A little repetitive in part but the story line is good and engaging. The ending is a tad abrupt. Overall I listened to this over several days while walking and the novel was a motivator in my setting out on my walks.

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  • Karen
  • 04-09-2014

Stressful............

Set in post world war one, Frances a one time radical suffragette now finds her life consumed by the drudgery of housework and family duty. Since the death of her brother and father, she is the main support for her mother, and their downward economic fortunes are her burden. To obtain an income, they let out part of their home to 'paying guests' and soon begins an unconventional love story. However within a short space of time a mixture of 'chaos, bad luck and blunder' results in some devastating consequences. What will happen? How will the characters endure and survive? How will things resolve?
Waters is an extremely good writer, particularly skilled at evoking a powerful sense of history. Usual Waters themes, of class, women's rights, and the stifling nature of 'social roles' for women and men, all appear in this book, and are powerfully portrayed. However, for me, although very well written, this book was overlong, and I found it repetitive. As circumstances for the characters spiralled from bad to worse it became stressful rather than gripping or enjoyable to read. By the time of the denouement I had really begun to dislike the characters to the extent that I didn’t totally care what had happened to them. This might be one book where an abridged version would have been better! I so wanted to like this book, but I can only say that I am relieved that it is over..............

31 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kirstine
  • 28-09-2014

A book full of surprises

The early chapters reminded me of Anita Brookner’s novels focussing on women of slender means living dreary, sheltered lives. The death of her father has left Frances and her mother short of money and reluctantly they have taken in a couple, Lillian and Leonard Barber, as paying guests. Set just after the First World War the author captures the sombre mood of the time and the nuances of class differences between the hosts and their paying guests. There are hints that Frances is not just the weary drudge of the early chapters but underneath is a woman of spirit who fought for woman’s rights.

Lulled into thinking that this will be a book of domestic and social minutia the narrative erupts into seething passions of stolen kisses and much more. As the author of Tipping the Velvet I shouldn’t have been surprised that the passions were among women. The vicissitudes of illicit love affairs and society’s unfair prejudices against unconventional love dominate the middle section of the book and are the backdrop to the surprising series of events that catapults the book into a crime novel culminating in a tense courtroom drama.

I found this an enthralling novel, well-written and full of surprises that gathers pace such that I couldn’t stop listening as the outcome is far from obvious. My only criticism is that it’s not necessary to portray male characters are caricatures of boorishness and insensitivity to idealize love among women.

Juliet Stevenson is a superb narrator and one of the reasons I chose this book.

29 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Rebecca
  • 23-09-2014

There but for the grace of go I

What made the experience of listening to The Paying Guests the most enjoyable?

Extremely well written and narrated. It is a fabulous book

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Paying Guests?

Guilt overwhelming guilt and a clear portrayal of all the characters perspectives.

What does Juliet Stevenson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Her narration was perfect. The plot was very intricate I may have missed moments if I had read the book

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

There but for the grace of god go you,I,or any of us

Any additional comments?

I have read and listened to all Sarah Waters books and I think this is the best even though I loved all the others.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jacq
  • 21-09-2014

Completely absorbing

A suspenseful book, that had me totally absorbed - I even found myself dreaming about the plot... and waking up with the same fear as the characters at the height of the drama! Always a sign of a great book when the plot rattles around your head when you're not reading it.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • cass
  • 03-09-2014

I couldn't put it down!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes! I have already recommended it to quite a few. It has a fantastic, gripping, thrilling storyline and my own life was encompassed by it until the very last page!

What did you like best about this story?

All of it!

What does Juliet Stevenson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

I have never bought an audio book prior to this but in my job I do a lot of driving and so decided to try it. Juliet Stevenson read the book in a very convincing way with different voices for characters and pauses in all the right places.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I wish I could have spared 21 hours straight to listen to it! Many nights in the week I stayed up late just to hear a bit more of it - it was very difficult to put down!

Any additional comments?

Fantastic! Buy it now and listen to it!

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Hazeladams
  • 03-09-2014

Wonderful

Where does The Paying Guests rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I think this is one of the best 'together' books I've heard. The narrative was so careful and spare, and I couldn't wait to listen to the next part and the narration by Juliet Stevenson was the icing on the cake.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Frances. She seemed so ahead of her time as a woman (but not unnaturally so).

Have you listened to any of Juliet Stevenson’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No, I haven't - I will go back and see what else she has done.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

Any additional comments?

Sarah Waters is wonderful. Each book is so different.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • mm
  • 16-09-2014

Sarah Waters at her best!

Would you listen to The Paying Guests again? Why?

Having read some tepid reviews I hesitated before choosing it,but I really loved this book.I've never read anything that gives such a potent sense of that strange and difficult time immediately after the First World War - the research Waters must have done sits lightly in the domestic detail. The plot is character driven and develops to an achingly uncertain climax. I have read and admired Waters' earlier books but have never been so fully engaged as with this one.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • liz
  • 13-09-2015

Slow start but good story and well narrated

It was a good portrayal of the boring provincial life of many women after the war keeping house for their mothers.
The characters were well described and easy yo relate to. I liked the contrast between Frances's posh mother and friends and Lilian's family.
Courtroom scenes were well written, with just enough suspense without milking it it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Eliza
  • 14-11-2014

Steamy and a bit squalid

What did you like best about The Paying Guests? What did you like least?

Sarah Waters is undoubtedly a talented writer, and I have enjoyed many of her other works. This one wasn't up to par, although it was saved by an exquisite reading by the sublime Juliet Stevenson. I found the plot a bit thin, somewhat implausible, and the lesbian sex scenes were a bit too purple for my liking. The official characters (policemen and lawyers) verged on caricature. A disappointing story.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • T
  • 04-09-2014

Beautifully writing, expertly narrated, but....

Fans of Sarah Waters can be assured of a lovely long and absorbing listen. Her writing remains compelling and I cannot fault Juliet Stevenson's delivery. But not her best book in my view.

Set at a time when men have returned from the Great War to find no home for heroes - and when women's hard-won greater sexual equality of wartime has been suddenly taken back from them in most respects. A time rich in possibilities for a novel.

Characters are drawn with care and the plot develops believably, maintaining momentum so that I wanted to keep on listening without pause. And yet, for me at least, something was missing. I cannot quite work out what (and will watch to see if other reviewers help me here) - but it has left me feeling disappointed despite having loved listening throughout. But still way better than most "5 star reads."

11 of 13 people found this review helpful