The Night Watch centers around four main characters - Viv, her brother Duncan, her co-worker Helen, and Helen's friend Kay. The setting is London around WWII. Told in three parts in a backward timeline, Waters opens with a look at these characters in 1947 and how they come out of the war time experience. Helen and Viv work together in an office as early predecessors of match.com. We see Kay alone and struggling to get back into life after the war. And Duncan is a companion for an older man referred to as 'Uncle Horace' although its established early that he is actually no relation. This section reads slowly at times, developing characters and their relationships with hints to their past.
The second section puts the reader right in the middle of the war but we quickly see that the relationships during this time are very different. Couples are joined in different configurations which shed some light on the preceding 1947 story. Waters does a great job with the wartime setting. Kay is an ambulance driver and her experiences picking up air raid victims are vivid and gut wrenching. We are submerged in a life of ration cards, black outs, nightly bombings. But through it all, our four characters are falling in love, looking for small joys and celebrations, enjoying friendships and camaraderie, and, in the case of Duncan, serving time.
The third section is the shortest. We are in 1941 and we see how these characters originally met, what drew them to each other, what lead to Duncan's incarceration. But this is where the book fell apart for me. After two meaty sections, I was expecting this final time period to unlock even more secrets - to surprise me with some detail or event that made me look at their future with a different perspective. Instead, the last section just confirms what Waters has really already told the reader. No surprises, no twists, no new information that made me rethink anything I'd read. I found that to be a waste of the clever timeline format and it disappointed me to wrap up an otherwise enjoyable book with such a flat ending.