New Sarah Waters novel is 'nerve-shreddingly tense'

New Sarah Waters novel is 'nerve-shreddingly tense'

The Bookseller has voted Sarah Waters' new novel The Paying Guests (Virago, August) a “gripping tale of class, sex and the consequences of a passionate affair” from a writer "indisputably at the top of her game".

Our fiction previewer Alice O'Keeffe, who interviews the author in today's edition of the magazine, has dubbed the novel's second half "so brilliantly unexpected, and so nerve-shreddingly tense, that it keeps the reader guessing until the very last paragraph”.

The Paying Guests, set in the 1920s, focuses on 26-year-old spinster Frances and her widowed mother Mrs Wray, who must take in lodgers to enable ends to meet. When Len and Lillian move in, Frances begins a tentative friendship with the latter, which soon grows into a full-blown affair.

Waters has previously written three Victorian novels, and two set in the 1940s. The Paying Guests is her first novel set in the 1920s, and took “four solid years” to write. The author told The Bookseller: “I slowed down a bit because I had to get to know the period and [it] always takes time to feel at home in a period. There was more research than I’d had to do for the last book (The Little Stranger, 2009); I already knew the 1940s quite well. It was a much more challenging book to write than the last one, which was a very straightforward haunted house story. Even though there’s a strong plot to it, it’s quite character-driven.”

Of the affair The Paying Guests describes, Waters said: “I always use lesbian desire to sort of upset something that we are familiar with. So with the other novels it would be taking a Victorian scenario that has been done to death a million times and putting lesbians into it and seeing what that does to it. With this novel it was a similar adventure.”

Waters' hugely popular books have sold 1,052,602 copies through Nielsen BookScan to date.