"The Paying Guests" is different - set in a different period and different place, with different characters and an overall different plot - and yet there are parallels I could not help but notice:
Just as in The Little Stranger (TLS), once again there are a family and a house at the heart of the story, both exposed to drastic changes which eventually lead to developments out of their control.
In TLS, the family is incomplete in that the mother is widowed, and her two grown-up children live at the family home with her, both single in spite of being old enough to have families of their own. In The Paying Guests (TPG), the family is even more incomplete, practically mutilated through the death of two sons during the war, and the mother also a widow, leaving just her and her grown-up daughter behind.
TLS is set after WWII, when the era of many wealthy families in big houses each dominating their part of the country has well and truly ended, and they are forced to adapt to the change in circumstances and society.
TPG is set after WWI, which is often overlooked for having brought about changes just as dramatic as the second World War. A new "clerk class" has been established, men, husbands, brothers and sons have died or returned from the war as invalids, money has been lost and old life styles have to be abandoned nearly as much as three decades later.
This is what happens to widowed Mrs. Wray and her daughter Frances: They still live in their once comfortable house, but there is no money left to pay for even a cleaning help, and so Frances does all the house work - and actually enjoys it, although her mother, clinging to the old ways, is mortified by the thought that her still relatively wealthy neigbhours will see Frances handling the dustbin or putting up the washing.
Of course, neither of the ladies has ever held a job, or learned anything by which they could earn any money. And so there is only one solution to save them from absolute poverty and having to give up the house: To take in lodgers.
But even that is too much for the sensitive mother - she insists on calling them Paying Guests.
When Lilian and Leonard Barber, a young couple of the "clerk class", take the rooms made ready for them, they provide some financial relief to Frances and her mother. But they also mean big changes in their lives. How big and irrevocable those changes are going to be is something neither of the characters can foresee. But one thing is for sure: After that first summer with their Paying Guests, nothing will ever be the same again for Mrs. Wray and her daughter.
I enjoyed reading this book a lot, although I never really warmed to Lilian. But everything is told so well, described so vividly, that the book's lengthiness (which is, I suspect, all part and parcel of the story) is forgiven. Sarah Waters' style of writing is one I very much like. Let me give you an example:
She loved these walks through London. She seemed, as she made them, to become porous, to soak in detail after detail, or else, like a battery, to become charged. [...] She was at her truest, it seemed to her, in these [...] moments when, paradoxically, she was also at her most anonymous. She never felt [it] when she walked with someone at her side. She never felt the excitement that she felt now, seeing the fall of the shadow of a railing across a set of worn steps.Leave out "through London" at the beginning of the paragraph, and replace the last bit about the shadow of a railing with anything that one may see during a walk, and you have a rather good description of why I like my lone walks so much and need them in order to keep sane and a decent human being the rest of the time when I am not alone.
The author talks about "The Paying Guests" in a 4-minute video clip here on youtube.