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The Night Watch

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  29,100 ratings  ·  2,039 reviews
An alternate cover edition can be found here.

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners—three women and a young man with a past—whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 27th 2006 by Riverhead Books (first published February 2nd 2006)
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Roger It's clearly a reference to the Odyssey: Penelope's ploy of promising to choose a suitor when her weaving is finished, while she secretly unravels a p…moreIt's clearly a reference to the Odyssey: Penelope's ploy of promising to choose a suitor when her weaving is finished, while she secretly unravels a portion of her work every night to delay finishing. This is usually seen as a expression of fidelity to her husband. In this context it is easy to see Auntie Vi as an impatient suitor. (Shudders.) (less)
Susan During the concert in the park scene in Part 1, we learn that lesbian women wore gold or silver rings on the pinky finger to identify themselves to ea…moreDuring the concert in the park scene in Part 1, we learn that lesbian women wore gold or silver rings on the pinky finger to identify themselves to each other. Kay's ring was the only way she had to tell people who she was. When she gave the ring to Viv in an incredible act of kindness (Kay is like that), she feels suddenly naked and unlucky. Then on the very same night, she loses both her home and her lover. When Viv returns the ring to her she is deeply moved, but it also brings back all those terrible memories. And then, perhaps she finally begins to deal with them, although we never really find out what happened to her after that. (less)

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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  29,100 ratings  ·  2,039 reviews

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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 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.
Helene Jeppesen
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5/5 stars.
I think this is my favourite book by Sarah Waters that I've read so far. Unlike some of her other books, I feel like this one had a great ending that wrapped things up beautifully.
The most astonishing thing about this story is the fact that it is told backwards. We start in London in 1947 when we meet several characters whose lives gradually entwine. Then we jump backwards to 1944 when London is in the midst of the war, and we - as readers - get more familiar with the characters an
Mar 19, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Jun 12, 2012 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
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
Lacey Louwagie
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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

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
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, reviewed
"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
4.25/5. This was my fifth book by Sarah Waters and another wonderful novel that captivated and moved me. It's been quite some time since I last read a book set during World War II, since it's not a time period I'm particularly drawn to when reading historical fiction, mainly because I feel like I've read so much about it already. However, in true Sarah Waters fashion, she managed to find an angle that I hadn't read before, focusing on four characters (three women, one man) whose lives intersect ...more
Jun 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
"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
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 09, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lucy Banks
Feb 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An ambitious, clever concept, just ever so slightly muddled in places.

I love Sarah Waters' writing style. She has this uncanny knack of bringing characters to life by using the unsaid as much as the said - and that's an impressive thing to carry off. Most of her books I've really enjoyed, and this was no exception, though I did have some minor reservations.

Firstly, let's outline the story. It travels backwards through time (from the aftermath of the Second World War to the start of it), and fol
The Night watch is about sexual outsiders - a lesbian triangle, a gay young man and his sister who is having an affair with a married man. It all takes place in London from 1941 to 1946. It has an odd backwards structure which was the least successful feature of the novel for me. It begins in 1946 and ends in 1941. What best worked was how vividly the author evoked London in the war years. Her attention to detail was masterful, especially the ambulance service one of the women belongs to and her ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars
I consider myself to be a Sarah Waters fan, so today, it is with a heavy heart, that I am giving one of her works such a low rating. It just didn't meet any of my expectations, and to be honest, for a Waters novel, it was entirely flat.

I suspected by the end of the first chapter that this book was not going to pay off in terms of plot, and I found it almost painfully slow in parts, almost to the point I wanted to chuck it out of the window.

The characters featured in this book lacked clarity, and
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
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.
John  Bellamy
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Jul 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
This is for every lesbian and gayboy whose heart was broken because of the pandemic. Sarah sees you, sisters.

let me attempt of a bit of proper review. i think that sarah waters is a phenomenal writer. i have read 2.5 of her books and i want to read them all (i did not finish Tipping the Velvet cuz i was a messed up young lesbian and i didn't need the further messing up that book was causing me. i loved The Paying Guests). Night Watch is both very gripping and very frustrating. it tells a spr
Louis Muñoz
Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Have rated this book 4 stars, though it's closer to a 3.5, 3.75 for me.

The book has an interesting, uncommon structure, though it doesn't completely work. Based mostly in London, we first meet our four main characters not long after the end of WWII, in 1947, in various ways still traumatized by the war. We start learning outright or otherwise guessing that their lives intersect or have intersected at various times. The next main part of the book shifts to 1944, and we learn more about what lies
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kate Forsyth
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am such a huge fan of Sarah Waters. I think she may be my favourite author at the moment. I’ve been slowly working my way though her backlist, and finally had the chance to read The Night Watch, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Orange Prize.

The novel has an unusual and audacious structure, in that each new section of the book moves backwards in time rather than forwards. So the first section begins in 1947, in the aftermath of World War II, when the people of London are struggl
Chrystal Hays
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 18, 2011 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
Craig Monson
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a book more about relationships than “plot,” and about characters that some readers may find unlikeable or even intolerable: the author’s empathy for difference and its life challenges is not something all Goodreaders will necessarily share. Set in three “acts” between 1941 and 1947—but taken in reverse order (’47-’44-’41)—it follows half-a-dozen lives that turn out to be interlinked, with paths that cross and re-cross, whether by accident or by design, sometimes in life-changing ways.

As my first foray into Sarah Waters, I was poised to love this, especially after hearing of her Angela Carter influence. The Night Watch wasn’t the novel to go for in terms of initiation; it’s an agonisingly slow slog with no real pay off.

The nonlinear architecture is a fabulous idea, and is further complemented by the elegiac tone of the novel. But the issue with this structure is that the plot is never sufficiently pulled taut by its secrets to justify the choice. The characters are too numero
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You'll love this ...: June 2020 - The Night Watch 118 31 Jun 30, 2020 05:33PM  
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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.

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