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.