Words of the Week #2

Hi everyone! Hope you’ve all had a lovely week!

I’ve been reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters as part of the ‘Big Book Weekender’ hosted by Simon at Savidge Reads on Bank Holidays. There’s no pressure to finish the book, but the aim is to take advantage of that extra day off to get a good start on any huge books that may seem daunting to read.

When I saw he was going to read The Paying Guests, I knew I had to take part. I pre-ordered this book when I first saw it was being published – and Waterstones released a super-special signed edition so I picked that one. Ordered it, picked it up, brought it home….and didn’t take it out of the packaging. I just couldn’t, not until I knew I was going to have time to read it – it was too pretty to just leave out on a shelf. As it’s so big, though, I just couldn’t fit it into my reading time. So it’s just stayed there.

Until now.


I love Sarah Waters’ writing, it’s so beautiful and captivating, effortless to read. Her characters are always intriguing: you automatically feel like you ‘know’ them, but you’re also aware that there are layers yet to be revealed.

The Paying Guests is her latest novel, published in 2014 (see how long I left it). Frances Wray and her mother, like many women, have been left in financial difficulties since the war ended. Though they have done their best to spend less, they are still in arrears with many of their account. Their last option is to open their grand house to paying lodgers. After converting rooms on the first floor, their first tenants are the Barbers, a young couple from Peckham Rye. They seem nice enough, but Frances is still unsure of them, especially Mr. Barber: she just cannot take to him. So will she soon regret her decision to let them into her home?

You will be unsurprised after that preamble to learn that my ‘Words of the Week’ come from this novel.

“…anyone, she thought, could possibly be deceived into thinking that the money was a mere formality, and not the essence, the shabby heart and kernel, of the whole affair.”

The above quote comes from the opening chapter, just after the Wray’s lodgers have moved in and paid rent. What caught my attention most was the phrase ‘the shabby heart and kernel’. I just think it’s a beautiful turn of phrase to describe how difficult Frances is finding it to reconcile her conscience with the decision she has made.

She finds it degrading, partially (or primarily?) because their family was once very ‘well-to-do’, with servants and wealth. Their ‘fall’ into difficulty seems greater to Frances because of this past, and because they are the first on their road to admit defeat in this way. And she knows that their neighbours are eagerly watching. The Barbers are not wealthy, so in addition to how odd it is to share one’s house with complete strangers, the Wray women are concerned about differing behaviours, routines, manners, and expectations.

I think that sentence, particularly the ‘shabby heart and kernel’ phrase, captures all that perfectly.


Thanks for reading this week’s instalment of ‘Words of the Week’. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

What words or phrases from your reading have captivated you this week?


1 thought on “Words of the Week #2”

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