Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests

I finished reading The Paying Guests today. Sarah Waters is a delight. I am afraid of saying very much now because I finished reading it only minutes ago and I don’t know how much of what I say is going to be out of pure admiration for the writing and how much, out of my own fascination with what the book took from me: Time, thoughts, energy, conversations. When we claim to like a book, isn’t it odd to separate the liking from our closeness to ourselves?

Before I start talking out of my ass, I must quickly get to why I liked reading Sarah Waters. It’s how she wove the house from scratch. Its importance to the plot may have been central, grotesque even. But I was carried away by how much the house was like Frances herself. Her movements in the house, her chores and eventually having to watch her endlessly prop one wall after the other to keep the house from falling. Her nightmares were real. And she showed me that.

My back straightened with caution everytime I read her descriptions about the abortion. It was far more exciting to read than the sex bits. Not that I didn’t change postures while reading the sex bits. I remember a time when reading took a lot of effort. I had to tell myself repeatedly that I must make an effort or I will never be able to finish it. I was nasty with some of this book’s predecessors, impatient and shifting maniacally from laptop to phone to book and then eventually to sleep itself. I think this book taught me how to read, in its own limited way along with everything else it did. I am patient with prose now, in a way that welcomes constant shuffling back of pages to mark a word, a metaphor, the yellow ink leaving its trail on sentences that I know I will not go back to but I marked, nevertheless.

But so much of reading is also rereading but I doubt I’ll get to that any time soon. Having learnt to read only now, it’s an ugly ambition to think of rereading. I don’t know if I have it in me. I am still warming up to the idea of reading closely.

What I remember also is how I managed to get irritated with Lilian more than I want to admit now. But maybe because the ending was happy, I think I have forgiven her.

Things that I thought unreal were made real. Like spaces growing with tension and producing distance between people who want to touch each other and hold each other. And when the spaces are overcome, this is said: ‘The space between them was alive and wanted to ease itself closed’. ‘The kiss unfurled, unfolded like a bolt of rippling silk’.

I will come back to Sarah Waters, I’m sure. Meanwhile I should try out what I learnt about reading on other books to see if it works.

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