Finished March 16
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, read by Juliet Stevenson
This historical fiction novel takes place over several months a few years after the end of World War I. Frances Wray lives with her mother in a large house in the Champion Hill neighbourhood of London. Frances' brothers were both killed in the war, and her father died more recently, leaving behind a little financial resources to support them. The two have decided to take in lodgers to get enough income to allow them to stay in the house.
Frances had a brief, but intense relationship with another woman that ended after the parents' of the two young women became aware of it. She has resigned herself to a life as a spinster, living with her mother.
However, once Mr. and Mrs. Barber move into the upstairs rooms in the Wray's house, Frances finds herself making a connection with Mrs. Barber, that renews her feelings of hope for happiness and love.
In this time period, relationships between two people of the same sex were definitely not acceptable, and Frances is well aware of the challenges facing her, especially after her parents' reaction to her earlier relationship, a reaction that caused her to retreat from that lover. She is a few years older now, and the war has made her more aware of the uncertainty of life, and she feels more willing to take such risks. Lilian Barber however, is of the lower clerk class, and has much more to lose through her relationship with Frances. Her married status is an additional barrier, and although she cares deeply for Frances, she is more uncertain of moving from a secret relationship to an open one.
This novel is definitely of its time, giving the reader a real sense of the lives of these characters within their social context.
I found the characters deeply interesting, particularly their development after a major event changes their lives forever, although I didn't particularly like Frances or Lilian.