Pages torn out of the trashy tabloids

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - S. BEAR BERGMAN

At­tempt­ing to dis­cuss Sarah Wa­ters’ The Pay­ing Guests presents a prob­lem: Quite a lot hap­pens in this story — in­clud­ing nearly ev­ery kind of hu­man be­hav­iour that’s ever made the front page of a trashy tabloid. It’s mar­vel­lous — hot and ten­der and ter­ri­ble — but dif­fi­cult to keep mum about.

The novel’s prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters — Mr. and Mrs. Bar­ber, newly of the “clerk class” and the ladies Wray, a widow and her near-spin­ster daugh­ter — rep­re­sent an ar­ray of class po­si­tions among them. The char­ac­ters all be­fit and be­tray their sta­tions by turns, some­thing you might ex­pect from Wa­ters.

In this story set just after The Great War, the Wrays are forced to take in the epony­mous pay­ing guests (what a lower class of per- son, the reader is told, would call “lodgers”) in or­der to keep pos­ses­sion of their gen­teel home on Cham­pion Hill, south of London. The Bar­bers move in on a rare sunny Sun­day af­ter­noon, with their things all tossed out of a van and onto the front walk. We feel the clutch of hor­ror as the Wray women find their so­lu­tion ex­posed to the neigh­bours and their house no longer their own. Hi­jinks, as they say, en­sue.

Wa­ters is a skilled sto­ry­teller. The book be­gins slowly, but gets rolling down­hill (but never quite man­ages to ca­reen out of con­trol).

So many things hap­pen, and Wa­ters writes about them in such emo­tional de­tail, that it’s easy to get caught up in them as one might the dra­mas of a friend. The plot is full of events, but some­how it doesn’t dis­tract from Wa­ters’ other spe­cialty: writ­ing about de­sire.

Ev­ery­one in The Pay­ing Guests is a want­ing ma­chine. Char­ac­ters go about try­ing to ful­fil both their law­ful and il­licit de­sires, while also con­ceal­ing from at least one per­son just what they might be.

Be­cause the plot is so ab­sorb­ing, and the turns so de­li­cious, it seeps in slowly how much at­ten­tion each of th­ese peo­ple pays to their de­sire and how th­ese wants re­veal ev­ery­thing.

By the end, the Bar­bers and the Wrays are known to the reader more through their de­sires than any­thing else.

But rest as­sured this is a novel to de­vour and en­joy.

The Pay­ing Guests Sarah Wa­ters McClel­land & Ste­wart

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.