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The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters.

October 27, 2016

The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters.  London : Virago, 2006.

4 stars

An intriguing novel, by a well-regarded English author, set in London after, during, and before World War II, involving a group of lesbians and their friends.

Sarah Waters was born in 1966 in a small town in Wales where she grew up. She earned her B.A. from the University of Kent, her M.A. from Lancaster University, and her Ph.D. from the University of London.  After finishing her dissertation on lesbian and gay historical fiction from 1870 to the present, she began to write novels, often incorporating historical settings.  A lesbian herself, she often makes lesbian characters central to her stories.  She written six novels and received extensive and laudatory attention.

Night Watch centers on life in London during the blitz with several of the characters working as ambulance drivers and attendants.  But despite the danger and destruction their private lives and loves continue.  What happens builds on the past and has consequences for the future.   A variety of lesbian characters are portrayed with unusual depth and complexity.  While being a lesbian is critical to each,  that is not the only important aspect of their identities.  Additional characters include a young woman who falls in love with a married man and her brother who is jailed for his behavior.

With unusual sensitivity and skill, Waters brings the reader into her characters.  She creates a tension in her writing by raising questions and leaving the reader waiting for answers.  She has creatively structured the novel in reverse chronological order, starting the novel in the immediate aftermath of war in 1946, then go back to the intensity of the war years, and finally to events just before the fighting starts.  While I enjoyed the novel and Water’s writing overall, I found the reversal of chronology somewhat anti-climatic.

With that minor criticism, I strongly recommend this book to all readers who are drawn to a well-written story.


One Comment leave one →
  1. October 27, 2016 10:23 pm

    I read this a while ago, but I wasn’t very excited about it, it felt to me too much like a book that had been ‘researched’. And considered that there are still plenty of people around who lived through the bombing (my father, for one) she could have had access to the memories of real people to make the book come alive.

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