Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Night Watch” as Want to Read:
The Night Watch
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Night Watch

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  22,338 ratings  ·  1,838 reviews
Sarah Waters, the award-winning author of three novels set in Victorian London, returns with a stunning novel that marks a departure from the nineteenth century. 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 ...more
Paperback, 506 pages
Published 2006 by Virago
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Night Watch, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
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…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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  22,338 ratings  ·  1,838 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Night Watch
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 ...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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Mar 19, 2007 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
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 ...more
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
Lacey Louwagie
Aug 29, 2007 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

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
Jun 20, 2010 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
Misha  Mathew
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
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
3.5 Stars
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
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
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  ·  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
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
Kristina A
Jul 11, 2007 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
Chrystal Hays
Jun 08, 2014 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
Mar 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...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
Craig Monson
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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

Started out fantastically then in a true Sarah Waters fashion, it didn’t go downhills it just want as fantastic.

The story feels unfinished and I feel like I’ve stopped reading midway.
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
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 ...more
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. Oh wow...I actually don't know what to say. This book has left me feeling confused and somewhat underwhelmed; from the description I had expected so much more, which was the reason for putting it on my "Want to have"-list, wanting to own a real copy of the book because I had such strong feelings that this book would be exactly my cup of tea. Sadly...that didn't really happen. I've already read "Affinity" by Sarah Waters and had very ambivalent and complicated feelings towards the ...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
Oct 24, 2007 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 ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Page count correction - The Night Watch 3 20 Nov 12, 2018 05:31PM  
Bailey's/Orange W...: January 2016 The Night Watch 13 43 Feb 16, 2016 11:40AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • No Surrender
  • Nothing Sacred
  • War Girls
  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
  • Wayward Girls and Wicked Women
  • Shadow Dance
  • The Well of Loneliness
  • The Invention of Angela Carter: A Biography
  • Stay (Aud Torvingen #2)
  • The Artificial Silk Girl
  • Expletives Deleted: Selected Writings
  • Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister (Movie Tie-In)
  • Love
  • Heroes and Villains
  • Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice
  • Random Acts Of Heroic Love
  • Gut Symmetries
  • Welcome to the Museum: Historium
See similar books…
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.
“Why is it we can never love the people we ought to?” 52 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.” 23 likes
More quotes…