More beach reading

Beach reading - The Paying GuestsI’ve already written about my first beach visit-beach reading session of this spring, back in April after my younger son’s running race on the seaside near Rome.

But somehow, it never seems ‘official’ to me until I visit the seaside town of Sperlonga, south of Rome.

Finally, last weekend I managed to get there for a day with my sons. It was a perfect day – blue skies, hot weather, lots of tourists but still not in full beach season mode.

Between walks around the town, a great seafood lunch and dips in the (still bracing) water, I was able to finish Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests.

I like Waters’ writing, but despite all the glowing reviews, I hadn’t warmed to the novel. The story opens in 1922, in post-war England. Outside of London, Frances Wray and her elderly mother are trying desperately to maintain their grand home in their greatly reduced circumstances.

I loved the premise of the Wray ladies taking in lodgers to help ease the avalanche of expenses. And I enjoyed even more the idea of their genteel neighbors delicately referring to the lodgers as ‘Paying Guests’ to make the situation more acceptable.

That the paying guests – the Barbers – were of the ‘clerk class’, essentially financing the Wrays yet, at the same time, somehow expected to understand that they were by no means their equals, added a touch of interest following the rapidly shifting social conventions surrounding class in post-WWI England.

After a promising start, the novel flagged for me, and I was almost ready to give up on it. A crime and the subsequent events and trials improved the novel considerably, and Waters is a master of including appealing period customs and historical context in her novels.

Overall, I didn’t agree with the rave reviews, but I certainly enjoyed reading this last, eventful section of the novel on the beautiful beach in Sperlonga.


  1. evelyneholingue on June 9, 2018 at 1:16 am

    There is nothing like beach reading! And yes, sometimes reviews don’t match our expectations. Sometimes, we are surprised too when a review was okay and we fall for the story. Like you, I read a lot. And I follow more my guts than the reviews. Unless it’s a book from an author I love. I wish you many more beautiful reading days, at the beach or not.

  2. kimberlysullivan on June 10, 2018 at 9:02 am

    Thank you, Evelyne. And yes, there is something special about beach reading, and that mixed sensation of relaxation and the enjoyment of the story that stays with you long after you read the novel. Happy (summer) reading days to you, too!

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