Book Of The Month: The Paying Guests

Read an exclusive excerpt from our book of the month, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters…

‘The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half- past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she’d supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving- up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling no sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.

She stood at a window in the largest of the rooms-the room which, until recently, had been her mother’s bedroom, but was now to be the Barbers’ sitting-room-and stared out at the street. The afternoon was bright but powdery. Flurries of wind sent up puffs of dust from the pavement and the road. The grand houses opposite had a Sunday blankness to them-but then, they had that every day of the week. Around the corner there was a large hotel, and motor-cars and taxi-cabs occasionally came this way to and from it; sometimes people strolled up here as if to take the air. But Champion Hill, on the whole, kept itself to itself. The gardens were large, the trees leafy. You would never know, she thought, that grubby Camberwell was just down there. You’d never guess that a mile or two further north lay London, life, glamour, all that.

The sound of a vehicle made her turn her head. A tradesman’s van was approaching the house. This couldn’t be them, could it? She’d expected a carrier’s cart, or even for the couple to arrive on foot-but, yes, the van was pulling up at the kerb, with a terrific creak of its brake, and now she could see the faces in its cabin, dipped and gazing up at hers: the driver’s and Mr Barber’s, with Mrs Barber’s in between. Feeling trapped and on display in the frame of the window, she lifted her hand, and smiled’

Buy The Paying Guests (Virago)

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