The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters
For once I bought a book and started reading it on the same day – usually it takes me about six months from buying the book to actually starting to read it, so this is a miracle.
The Paying Guests is set in South London in 1922. Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances are still trying to pick up the pieces from the First World War which saw all of Mrs Wray’s sons die and her husband passing away just after. As the debts mount up they decide to take some lodgers in the form of newlyweds Leonard and Lillian Barber.
Mr and Mrs Barber’s first few months with the Wray’s is full of awkwardness and tension – Mr Barber spotting Miss Wray in her dressing gown or a chance meeting on the landing. It’s not until Lillian invites Frances for a picnic in the park that the two strike up a union which results in Frances trusting her tenant to cut her hair and invite her to family parties. As Leonard becomes more distant Lillian and Frances become closer and one evening Lillian is invited into Mr and Mrs Barber’s room to play a game. Things quickly get out of hand as the dominant Leonard manipulates the two women which ends in Lillian removing some of her clothes. It’s here we learn of Frances’s love for Lillian.
The two begin a passionate affair and wishing for moments so they can be alone together. Lillian has to go on holiday with Leonard and the week apart for the pair is torture. However, when Lillian returns she is different and we soon learn the reason why – she is pregnant. Frances is inconsolable but Lillian assures her she will do everything she can so she and Frances can be together. She uses a remedy to give herself a miscarriage – she is in agony for days and has to hide it from Leonard. His dominance and persistence at asking what is wrong finally causes Lillian to confess she has given herself a miscarriage. Leonard immediately jumps to conclusions thinking it is another man’s baby but Lillian confesses she wants to leave him for Frances. A physical scuffle soon breaks out and in her haste Lillian hits Leonard over the head with an ashtray. The blow kills him.
Panicking the women decide to put his body in the alley behind the house and make it look as though someone else murdered him. As the press soon get wind of it and the police become involved, the pressures of their lies soon begin to drive the women apart as they wrestle with telling the truth. A man is eventually arrested and it turns out that he is the boyfriend of a woman Leonard was secretly having an affair with. The trial is taken to the Old Bailey however the boy is found not guilty and we are left wondering if Lillian and Frances can ever be together or if their lie to big a burden to bear.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it felt as though it could have been written in the 1920s due the language and phrases Sarah Waters uses. She brilliantly captures women’s lowly place in society and the prim and proper nature women of a certain class tried to uphold. Some books I have read which have been set in a similar time yet written in modern times, often don’t capture the essence of the period which is why I think I loved this book. Homosexuality was illegal at this time and I think Waters describes Lillian and Frances’s relationship and it’s struggles beautifully.
The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
So normally when there is a buzz around a book I seem to never be able to understand the hype. I swear I don’t do it just to be contradictory. Classics such as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Lord of the Flies spring to mind but all that changed when I read this year’s most hyped book; The Girl on the Train. To say I was hooked is a complete understatement. I finished reading it four days ago and would happily read it cover to cover again right now.
If you are one of the few people who haven’t read it here is what happens. Rachel’s life has fallen apart, she is divorced from ex-husband Tom, forced to move into a house with her friend and to top it all off she’s been fired from her job for her tendency to drink. She still makes the same journey into London each days so her flatmate Cathy assumes she is going to work. Each morning and evening she sees Jess and Jason from her train. She thinks they are a picture of wedded bliss, always smiling and kissing she fantasies about their perfect life together on the street she once lived on. However one morning she sees Jess with another man and everything changes.
Meanwhile Rachel is completely hung up on ex husband Tom. The only trouble is he has a new wife and child and is living in Rachel’s former home. One Saturday night she has too much to drink and goes round to Anna and Tom’s in a blind rage however, she cannot remember exactly what happens. On the same night Jess, real name Megan is murdered. Rachel struggles to piece together bits of the night, she can remember an alleyway, Tom, a woman who she thinks is Megan and blood everywhere.
In a fit of despair she goes to tell Jason real name Scott that she saw Megan with another man thinking she maybe to help provide a lead into Megan’s murder. And from there we a real thriller on our hands. Megan’s therapist is implemented however as Rachel gets more and more involved no one seems to believe her due to her drinking problems.
Rachel then realises that the woman in the alleyway with Tom that night wasn’t Anna but Megan and she goes round to tell her arch nemesis Anna who shockingly reveals that her husband and Megan were having an affair. I won’t give away the whole ending but it definitely wasn’t a disappointment.
I feel this synopsis doesn’t give the book justice but it really is an incredible plot and I would recommend it to anyone. Considering this is Hawkins’ debut novel it is an amazing achievement. The book is going to be turned into a film and I for one cannot wait to see it on the big screen.
The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
The House Of Mirth had been on my ‘to buy’ list for a couple of months at the beginning of last year. I read an article where intellectuals spoke about their favourite books and The House of Mirth came highly recommended. I bought it just before I moved to London and it went all the way up with me and came all the way back to Cornwall unread. As I am nearing ever closer of diminishing my ‘to read’ list I thought it was about time I read it.*
*Although I probably have about five books left to read, I’m only going to continue adding to that list. I cannot imagine not having books lined up to read.
The House of Mirth is set in New York and centres on the socialites of the early twentieth century. Lily Bart was born into this said circle; her mother was seen at all the parties and events whilst her father worked hard behind the scenes making a modest income. Once both of her parents are dead Lily finds herself leading the extravagant lifestyle of her peers but with a limited income. She very soon racks up an extortionate about of debts and nearing her late twenties realises she must marry however she wants to marry for love as well as money.
Lily is an extremely flirtatious young woman and charms her friend Gus Trenor into giving her money, much to her peers’ disgust. She flits between trying to persuade Mr Rosedale and Mr Selden to marry her; both of them approach her with caution due to her love of society and some of the poor choices she has made. The latter referring to the time she is seen coming out of Mr Rosedale’s apartment at an ungodly hour and a young lady knowing Lily Bart has some money, decides to sell letters between two of Lily’s friends who are having an affair. When Lily’s friends get wind of this they fall out with her.
Seeing no other option at the prospect of becoming penniless she decides to work – yes actually work. Mr Selden later points out that Lily is not made for work. She takes some rather lowly accommodation and works as a seamstress making hats. Needless to say her haphazard approach to work causes her to be dismissed. As money woes mount up she is taking a concoction of prescribed drugs and one evening when she does finally begin to see the light and come into a small amount of inheritance she takes an accidental overdose. Once Selden learns of her death he realises he did love her all along.
It’s not the happiest of tales and there were bits where I just couldn’t get into it however on the whole I did enjoy it. I am slightly down grading this but it did remind me of an old fashioned Gossip Girl with the exotic holidays, fancy parties and huge fallings out.