The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters: review

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. It’s 1922 in London, and the Brixton roller rink is still draped with Armistice bunting. Frances Wray of posh Champion Hill has lost a wastrel father and two beloved brothers in the Great War, and she and her mother are sinking into genteel poverty when they decide to take in Leonard and Lilian Barber as “paying guests.” Subtly, suspensefully and inexorably, “cross-grained” Frances and dreamy Lilian spend the first half of “The Paying Guests” falling in love.

The Cello Courier

THE MORNING NEWS. My mother died in 2011, leaving behind a pink stucco house in Boca Raton full of kitchenware, beading gear, and scrapbooking tools. Two months later, I shipped 12 boxes of her things to my New York apartment. My sister Amanda packed a suitcase of photographs and mementos and turned her back on the rest. Except her cello.

On Christopher Street Pier

PUBLIC BOOKS. I’ve seen that child before, a boy of 10 or 12 in suspenders and a newsboy cap. He plays the cello. He rides a unicycle. Once I saw him in a sycamore in Abingdon Square, a sliver of a park in Manhattan’s West Village. Once I saw him in a tree outside my window.

I’ll Be Home for the Holidays, But Only If I Stay in a Motel

BUZZFEED. On a Christmas visit to her pink house in Boca Raton, Fla., when I was 34, I had a fight with my mother, who’d been drinking all evening. It began with me asking her not to wake me and my girlfriend up again by emptying the dishwasher at 4:30 in the morning. It ended with both sides shouting, “Fuck you!” As my girlfriend Sharon and I

For Now and For Nao

PUBLIC BOOKS. Both of the protagonists in Ruth Ozeki’s new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, set out to tell one story and wind up telling another. “Ruth”—like the book’s author a novelist living on an island in British Columbia with a husband named Oliver—is struggling to write a memoir about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s.

Bird of Paradise

VOGUE.COM. She crossed the street toward me on that not-yet-spring day, a clarion burst of purple, white, and green, with little trills of marbled ink and wispy plume. Bird of Paradise, I thought, thank you for braving cold, dirt, and sarcasm to bring a little sparkle to Hudson Street. Lord knows we all needed it as we shuffled along in our dark layers of down: the dog walker, the man with the baby sling, the brunette in fuzzy boots. I looked at the woman, my face a sunflower of gratitude and admiration. “Great outfit,” I said, and she walked by without even a glance my way.

Digging Up the Depths of Desire

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Many of us have read subtle, well-wrought stories in which a character’s most secret soul is illuminated—and yet (yawn) nothing really happens. The writer tried too hard to Make the Reader Care.

There are also pyrotechnically masterful stories in which cars explode and the world ends—and yet (ho-hum) nobody cares. The writer tried too hard to Make Something Happen.

An Elaine Encomium

AMANDA STERN. My best-dressed professor was named Elaine Hansen. She taught my Fictions of Gender in the Fourteenth Century class, gave excellent lectures, and made sure we all left knowing how to use the MLA Bibliography.

Paris Remembers, Paris Forgets

FATHOM TRAVEL. The glamorous painter Tamara de Lempicka lived Paris in the 1920s. I lived in Paris in 2008 while writing my de Lempicka novel, The Last Nude. My partner Sharon Marcus, a scholar on sabbatical, spent her days researching Sarah Bernhardt in the theater archives of the Bibliothèque Nationale, while I spent mine in our sublet apartment, finishing the first draft.

A Year in Reading

THE MILLIONS. The LA Times called her “The finest British writer alive.” Julian Barnes called her “the best English novelist of her time.” Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) began publishing at the age of fifty-eight and produced nine novels…

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