With her novel The Paying Guests, Waters looks at postwar 1920s London, but through a very unique lense. We are first introduced to the Wray family, spinser Frances and her mother who live together alone in a townhouse. Due to the deaths of the men in the family, Frances and her mother are forced to rent out a room in their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber. While initially Frances is suspicious of the the couple, she then strikes up a friendship with Lillian which develops into something much more.
Without giving too much away the story is essentially about the blossoming friendship and eventual affair that occurs between Lillian and Frances set against the backdrop of 1920’s London, a time in which class and gender structures were very much in flux. While I very much enjoyed the story as well as Waters’ writing style, so much of this book seemed so very long. There were parts that dragged on forever without ever really coming to a conclusion. Waters’ writing is great, but the editor really should have cut this book down about 100-200 pages. The unnecessary dialogue and inner thoughts detracted from the rest of the book.
As a feminist scholar specializing in female sexuality in Victorian England, Waters certainly knows her subject and sets the scene beautifully. She is not unfamiliar with creating a dramatic story and does so quite well. Even though the book runs a bit long in places, it is still a worthy read and a great piece of historical fiction.
For some reason reading this felt kind of like reading Are You There God It’s Me Margaret, if that book had been written for adults and if Margaret had turned out to be a lesbian later in life. This was a great read in which Florence King details her life growing up in Washington DC under the tutelage of her Grandmother, determined to make Florence a lady despite failing with her own daughter, Florence’s mother.
While this book is Florence King’s memoir and tells the story of her life from growing up in the 1950s in Washington to her pursuit of higher education before falling in love with professional writing, Florence’s grandmother is by far the best part of this book. Her grandmother’s obsession with feminine weakness, even to the point of competition with other women over whether nervous breakdowns, or “female troubles,” were the true marker of femininity, is the most hilarious part of Florence’s story and becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the whole book.
Even though King writes about her grandmother with a sense of humour, she still maintains a great deal of respect for her and it becomes clear how much of an impact having such a strong willed grandmother, and mother, albeit in a different sense, had on her life. King writes beautifully which makes her memoirs a treat to read and enjoy.