Betrayal! Sarah Waters and I have a deal: she writes slow, beautiful, lesbian romances, and I give her 4 and 5 star reviews. This book though? Zero lesbians. *Zero*.
Instead, I get an ultra-slow burn ghost story set in a British mansion. On the one hand, I like that Waters taps into a under-used vein of horror, that of home ownership and watching this enormously valuable asset crumble around you as it is continually assaulted by heat, cold, rain, snow, winds, accident, plant growth, leaks, mold, etc. etc. It is scary and nerve wrenching stuff. Things become doubly parlous when you are dealing with the famously shoddy and drafty British construction standards. Besides the plus of house-based horror, I also simply enjoy Water's writing. I think she's a charming writer, even when she is just meandering through scenes of people talking and carrying out their daily lives. She also has a real skill at painting people and environments with acuity, making rooms and architecture and gardens perfectly clear, and capturing the shifts in mood and conversation. At the best her characters feel concrete. Like there is no airiness or artifice to them, and Waters is just directly transmitting the lived experience of interacting with them.
On the other hand ... the book has structural problems in that her chosen sub-genre and plot simply do not fit the page count. 500 pages is too long of a run time for a relatively sedate ghost story. The massive page count saps any real tension or terror from the book. Things are not helped by the protagonist being the nicest of nice guys, and as he is the only PoV character, you spend the entire, long, novel in his head. The final dozen pages of the book do have an excellent pay off, and it does kind of make you want to read the entire novel again, but as with most Waters this desire is balanced against the largish length of the book.