As the prize season approaches, publishers’ marketing departments go into overdrive. Yet, arguably, Virago may be correct in speculating that The Paying Guests is ‘the most anticipated book of 2014’, given Waters’s legions of hardcore fans and her consistent critical track record. Each of her five previous historical novels has either been shortlisted for or secured a major literary prize – starting with her debut, Tipping the Velvet (1998), which won a Betty Trask award. Waters is in the rare position of seeing her last three novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Fingersmith (2002), The Night Watch (2006) and The Little Stranger (2009). She didn’t make this year’s Booker longlist, but one cannot blame Virago, perhaps, for having hoped that – unlike Angela Carter, a writer she much admires – Waters would finally relinquish the bridesmaid’s role.
Waters’s first three novels were both set in the Victorian era, while The Little Stranger was the second of her works to focus on the state of England after the Second World War. Now she has again repositioned herself in terms of period focus and setting. The Paying Guests is