The first Sarah Waters book I read was ‘The Paying Guests’ which I absolutely adored and it left me wanting to read more of her work.
Although I thought there was much to admire in this novel, for me, it didn’t reach the standards of ‘The Paying Guests,’ and if I am completely honest, left me slightly disappointed.
Narrated in the third person, five main characters live through the Second World War and their lives intertwine in various ways. However the author begins at the end, and works backwards, so that we first meet the characters after the war, and as the book progresses, we find out why and how they have become the people they are today. The book jumps from 1947 to 1944 and then 1941. We are led through the narrative as a puzzle, so my advice would be not to leave the book down for too long, or you will be entirely lost. I felt it a shame she worked it this way, as it meant by the time you figured out what had happened to them in the past, you had forgotten the beginning of the novel and where they were in the present day. But perhaps that is just me and most readers have a better concentration span!
Where Waters excels is in her character portrayals, which are so vivid and detailed that within a few short chapters of them being introduced, I felt I knew Kay, Viv, Helen, Duncan and Julia, and I was invested in what happened to them. Helen’s portrayal of jealousy of her lover Julia is uncomfortable in its truthfulness of how we feel when jealous of another: ‘These thoughts raged through her like a darkness in her blood.’
What I really could have done without was the abortion scene (REALLY? have we not had enough grim abortion scenes in novels by now?) and for me there were too many gratuitous sex scenes that added nothing to the plot or the story. I also felt Duncan’s story was unnecessarily shocking at times. A bit more subtlety would have worked better for me personally.
The descriptions of the horrors of World War II are powerful and disturbing in equal measure. As Viv so simply but brutally puts it: ‘We might all be dead tomorrow.’
From the perspective of a wannabe writer, Waters is a genius and her prose is sublime with detail and expression. I would recommend this book. It is a fascinating look at London during the blitz, if nothing else. I would also certainly read another of her novels and in fact look forward to her next book. But if I was to recommend one book by her, it would be ‘The Paying Guests. ‘
So, book lovers, did you read it? What did you think? Have you read any other Sarah Waters’ novels? If so, which was your favourite? I look forward to hearing your thoughts, please post your comments.
In other reading news, I have almost finished a novel by Kit De Waal, called ‘My Name is Leon.’ I would have to say it is probably the best book I have read so far this year. I highly recommend it. I will be publishing a review on it on http://www.writing.ie tomorrow, which you can find under the tab ‘For Readers’ on the far right of the page, and then go to ‘Book Reviews.’