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The Night Watch

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  18,308 Ratings  ·  1,521 Reviews
Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners: three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the
Hardcover, 472 pages
Published 2006 by Virago
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Violet wells
Henry James once said novels deal with the “palpable present-intimate” and the two novels I’ve been reading this month, this and The Way Back to Florence, are both massively successful at enthralling through an intimacy of observation. Both novels are set during WW2, both are superbly researched, soundly constructed, character-driven and intelligently eloquent without indulging in any literary sleights of hand or innovative technique. In short, both are excellent examples of riveting straightfor ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Sabrina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading a Sarah Waters novel is like eating a pomegranate. Sweet exotic fruit. However, you have to be patient in order to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Julie Christine
This is such a touching, sober and tender novel. The setting is London: the story begins in 1947 and works backward to end in 1941. The story weaves through the lives of a handful of women, some of whom had tedious office jobs, others the grim work of driving ambulances or sorting through the rubble of destroyed homes, but all bravely assisted their fellow citizens through the messy, tragic business of living in London during the war. After the war, these women seem without tether and are once a ...more
Jun 12, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: previous sarah waters reads
Shelves: read-in-2012
It is perhaps not the best of signs that, unprompted and without my copy of this book beside me (because I am writing review at work.... naughty, naughty), I can barely remember the names of any of the principal characters.

This may be a sign of two things:
1. My ailing memory due to incipient old age

2. The fact that this books characters were not potentially striking or memorable enough to lodge them firmly within grey matter like a sort of post-reading word shrapnel.

Because no one likes to admi
Mar 19, 2007 Kate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled with my rating on this one. It seems sad to give only 1 star to what feels like an author's greatest effort to date. And I did end up liking one of the characters a little.

Oh well.

Luckily, this book improved after the first 250 dreadful pages. But isn't that a long time to wait for improvement? See my earlier comment for the defects of the book's Part One (takes place in 1947). Part two, set three years earlier, is certainly less boring, but only because the war was still on, not bec
Lacey Louwagie
Aug 29, 2007 Lacey Louwagie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I had this book pushed on me from someone in my building. I didn't really mind because I saw it was by Sarah Waters who wrote Tipping the Velvet, but I wasn't particularly excited to start this one. I finally cracked it open because said neighbor is moving out soon and I wanted to get it back to him before he left. Now I feel sad that I have to part with it.

I loved this book. It follows the lives of four people backwards through World War II. It begins post-war, in 1947, and you meet these chara
Oct 15, 2014 BrokenTune rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, favorites
"She went down the steps and started to walk. She stepped like a person who knew exactly where they were going, and why they were going there— though the fact was, she had nothing to do, and no one to visit , no one to see. Her day was a blank, like all of her days. She might have been inventing the ground she walked on, laboriously, with every step."

The Night Watch was not what I expected. I don't like war time stories. There is very little I enjoy about the gory detail or historical arrogance

Really loved the first third of the novel, the rest not so much, it wasn't bad, it was just unsatisfying. There wasn't a proper ending to where the main characters were left off in part one of the story, I wanted an epilogue or something to tie up the many loose ends.

-What's What: Split into three sections, the first part of the story set in 1947 London, the next in 1944, and the final part set in 1941. Focuses on four main characters (Kay, Helen, Viv, Duncan) who have survived the war
Jul 06, 2010 Misha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me an extraordinarily long time to finish this book. I could not get into it at first. On the top of it, discovering The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin diverted my attention further away from it. When I finally came back to The Night Watch and gave it another try, that's when I started to appreciate the quiet beauty of this book. The Night Watch is absolutely different from the other Sarah Waters books I've read - Fingersmith, Affinity and The Little Stranger. There are ...more
K.E. Coles
Fabulous writing as always from Sarah Waters. However, I found it really difficult to relate to any of the characters except Duncan - a troubled soul whose story I found by far the most interesting of them all. I'd have liked to have read a lot more about him and a lot less about Helen/Kay/Julia. As for Viv, I couldn't understand her being with Reg in the first place, so her relationship with him became hugely irritating.
Reading's always subjective, of course, but this one didn't work for me.
Bill Khaemba
“Why is it we can never love the people we ought to?”

I need more of Waters historical books, she is such a talented writer her ability to showcase world war 2 through the eyes of ordinary youngsters was immersive and well executed. She propels the narrative forward by creating such vivid and disturbing scenes and raw emotions from the characters during this awful period.

The Story follows 4 perspectives set in 1940s London during world war 2.

Kay: An eccentric young girl dressed in boyish clo
One of the reviews which expressed my own feelings extremely well was Tocotin's to be read here:

Probably I was expecting too much. By now I should have learned that I and Booker or Orange Price participants do not mesh well.

I so wanted to like this book, delve into the era, submerge myself in war-time London, only to fetch up short and painfully against the fact that Waters clearly dislikes the characters she writes. She concentrates so fully and entirely
John  Bellamy
Nov 15, 2011 John Bellamy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The college library furnishing me with fiction affixes a pink label to the spines of several of Sarah Waters'books designating them as "gay" fiction. I'm not certain of the purpose of such labels--recommendation? deterrence?--but it is surely a disservice to this gifted writer and a distortion of her remarkable work to marginalize it in the category of "lesbian" fiction. Having greedily devoured "Fingersmith" and "The Little Stranger," I was already persuaded that Waters is the best "sensation" ...more
Aug 16, 2010 Fanny rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book made me feel a bit disappointed. I ended up liking the characters somewhat, but at the end of the day I felt like I had a big "WHY?" written over my forehead. The plot is almost non-existing and the one that actually is there provides to you no answers that I found satisfying enough to read 441 pages of this book.

I feel a bit fooled when you do not get to know what happened after part one, what the women made of their lives, what happened to Helen and Julia? What did Kay do when she go
Kristina A
Jul 11, 2007 Kristina A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neo-victorian
Stayed up late reading yet another Sarah Waters novel... Something about her writing helps me recapture the excitement about reading that has diminished somewhat since I've become an academic -- reading in a kind of fever, staying up late, etc.

That said, this novel (as other reviewers have noted) is quite different from her others. The plot is certainly not as fast-paced or full of "twists" as the earlier novels; the setting has moved from Victorian to WWII (which makes a big difference to me a
Chrystal Hays
Jun 08, 2014 Chrystal Hays rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has been described as "almost Dickensian"....I should say not. No caricatures or ridiculous coincidences here. I would never insult it in that way.

This is elegant, and the unusual structure, which bothered me a little at first, actually works in a peculiar way to give a crescendo of the horror of war, to that which has been overcome.

For males thinking "lesbians are hot", this will be a disappointment. It is a much more realistic treatment of the relationships among women t
Jun 20, 2010 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Jon, this is about lesbians." Such was my stepmom's drawly voice on the phone one afternoon. I had bought The Little Stranger for her birthday a month before. I then read that novel and discovered it was rubbish or at least a muddled effort to be a class-conscious ghost story. I ran out the following day and bought her The Night Watch which I had read months before and liked considerably. I never thought that this single detail would elicit a literary discussion over the phone. This was in fact ...more
Apr 19, 2012 Sofie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, historical, queer, 2006
The Night Watch is the story about four people in a London marked by the Second World War, all trying to find a way for themselves. Kay was an ambulance driver during the war, fearless, energetic, loved and in love. Now she wanders the street, not certain what she's searching for. Helen is living with Julia, having all she could wish for, but she's plagued by jelousy and guilt. Viv knows that she's wasting her life waiting the next stolen moment with her married lover, but can't bring herself to ...more
Mar 18, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to decide whether I liked the way the book was written; introducing the main characters in 1947 and then going back to 1944 and 1941. So you know how it is going to end. However the characters work well and the atmosphere of wartime London is well drawn. The relationships feel real and I certainly cared about the characters. The ending, especially the last sentence, is wonderful and puts some of the rest of the book in perspective. This is the first Sarah Waters I have read an ...more
I have a strange relationship with Sarah Waters' books -- I love them because they are unmistakable queer, with mental illness and the complications of existence portrayed without focusing too much on queer tragedy. Books like Affinity made me cry, and books like The Paying Guests gave me a certain amount of relief. Reading The Night Watch right on the heels of reading Connie Willis' WW2 series was a relief. Here was a fictional examination of WW2 England in which I actually fit. At the same tim ...more
Oct 24, 2007 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
I can honestly say I haven't read a book like this before, and that's a good thing. It was really engrossing, mainly because it was almost completely character driven, and the characters were very interesting. The story starts in 1947 in post-War Britain, then the 2nd half is in 1944, and then it ends in 1941 (basically wrapping up how these characters first met each other). I really have to go back and skim the first third of the book because now i will understand what's really going on with al ...more
Waters starts her tale of WWII London in 1947, introducing several characters and showing us their situations: Kay, who's still obsessed with wartime and can't connect with anyone in the present; Helen and Julia, whose love affair is threatened by Julia's possible infidelity; Viv, who's involved with a married man; and Viv's brother Duncan, whose life is changed when he meets again the man he shared a prison cell with. Then Waters works backwards: having shown us where these characters are after ...more
I like Sarah Waters a lot (my favorite book of hers is Affinity), and I enjoyed this one, but can't say I was looking forward to continuing the reading (I read on the train, mostly).

It's not the slow pace that bothered me, or the excessive use of details. I think the author did a fantastic job describing the material side of living in wartime London - the food, the lack of cigarettes, the longing for luxury. It's not even that the story is sad and depressing and devoid of hope - and it is - I'm
Pretty sure this is the first book I've read that has gay ladies as main characters????? I'm 22 this is a fricking tragedy. More gay ladies in everything please.

Okay, first things first, gay 1940s ladies was everything I needed. 10/10 would recommend.

I do like a book that goes "back in time" so I appreciated the structure of this novel. It first gave the events of 1947, then 1944, then 1941. There's something about slowly understanding how the characters got into these situations that just appea
Sep 05, 2008 Punk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
Historical Fiction. I love the writing in this. Waters' prose reminds me of Margaret Mahy -- slow and lyrical, with surprising moments of whimsy. The story is filled with compelling characters and tracks the way their lives intersect, overlap, and diverge again.

I was less thrilled with the fact the book starts in 1947 London and works its way backwards to 1941. It's well done, but gimmicky, a perfectly ordinary novel made slightly mysterious with...whatever the opposite of foreshadowing is. Odd
Jan 29, 2013 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-n-z
I have loved all the Sarah Waters books I've read so far, although I didn't rate this one as highly as Fingersmith, The Little Stranger and The Paying Guests (3 crackers).

It's not an original idea to start at a moment in time (in this case 1947) and work the story backwards. In less accomplished hands this could be a disaster, but Waters manages it really well. In fact I think it really adds to the story. For instance one relationship in 1947 is shown as having lost its thrill and has become sta
Sarah Waters's The Night Watch is set in England during and just after World War II. The novel focuses on three women (Kay, Helen, Vivien) and a young man (Duncan) and begins in 1947, when we first meet the character. The following sections take us back to 1944 and then 1941, where we see the genesis of the shifting relationships between the four main characters. It's beautifully written - I was totally engrossed in the fates of the main characters and the minor ones - and incredibly atmospheric ...more
Reta Anna Maria
Apr 01, 2016 Reta Anna Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hieno, hieno kirja. Tarina, hahmot, tunnelma... ja kaiken lisäksi imaisetasti kirjoitettu.
Петър Панчев
Любов и война във вихъра на времето
(Цялото ревю е тук:

В дългата редичка книги за четене се намести и „Нощна стража“ на Сара Уотърс („Алтера“, 2012, с превод на Милен Русков). Взех да се оглеждам повече и за нула време направих списък с десетина книги, които по някаква причина съм пропуснал или просто оставил за по-късно. Това „по-късно“ взе да се приближава със завидна скорост и неусетно дойде времето за поредната привлякла вниманието ми книга. Има ли н
Sep 12, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
London after, in the middle of, and at the beginning of WWII, in that order; I am awed by the beauty of the nonlinear storytelling of The Night Watch. It's a character-driven novel, and it was a breath of fresh air after all the plot-driven fiction I've been reading lately. There is something poignant about the way Waters works backward through time in this novel, the way the characters come intensely to life as they grow younger, as the reader sees who they are, knowing whom they will become. T ...more
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Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.

Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel.
More about Sarah Waters...

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“Why is it we can never love the people we ought to?” 50 likes
“She supposed that houses, after all - like the lives that were lived in them - were mostly made of space. It was the spaces, in fact, which counted, rather than the bricks.” 22 likes
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