Sofie's Reviews > The Night Watch

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
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Apr 19, 12

bookshelves: 2006, historical, own, queer
Read in December, 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 give him up. Her younger brother Duncan spends the days with mindless work in a factory and the nights with his "uncle", fading away a bit more every day. The lives of these characters, and the supporting cast, intertwine more than you can imagine when you first start reading.

The book is written in three parts, taking place in 1941, 1944 and 1947, but in reverse chronological order. I'm usually not fond of tricks like that, but in this case it works. Veil after veil is lifted, to reveal some of the mystery surrounding these characters, but not all. When I'd finished reading, after the part set in 1941, I admit I was a little bit disappointed. I didn't get the answers I'd been looking for, I wanted to know more about these persons, and most importantly, what happened to them. But I went back to the start and read some parts from the 1947 block again, and found that I knew more that I thought I did.

A lot of people seem to find The Night Watch dull compared to Sarah Water's other books. I've only read Tipping the Velvet, which was wonderful, but I actually like this one better. Perhaps it's not exciting, but it's definitely compelling.

My favourite part about the book is that, even though it's set in the 40s, the characters' sexuality is treated as a fact, and not as an issue. They have problems in their relationships, of course, but it's not because some of them happen to be gay, it's simply because they're human. It's a rather unusual approach in fiction, and very refreshing.

The war is treated much in the same way. It's there, ruthlessly shaping their lives, but it's not really commented on.

I had a lovely time reading this book, enjoying Sarah Water's wonderful langague, and I definitely recommend it.
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