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“A very good read. There are five main characters, and their lives are layered together before, during, and after the bombing of London in World War II. The novel works backwards, with each section moving the reader a few more years into the past, and this probably wouldn’t work so well in the...”see full review » see other reviews »
“The Night Watch by Sarah Waters is a story about relationships. It examines the fragile precepts given us by traditional values that once exposed seem bogus and frail; as fragile as the humans whose lives they affect. The taut jealousies and vagaries of sexual tastes that inhabit this story give tension, add flavour and drive the reader on. The technique is sparing revealing the ambiguities of life and love, of yearning and of betrayal. Working four central characters into the narrative means keeping a tight focus or else the plot will come undone. Sarah Waters achieves this admirably well.
Kay who wanders around London dressed like a man, Helen and Viv and Viv’s brother Duncan. The canvas upon which the story is set is a worn torn Britain at war but that back drop is secondary to the tale which could be played in any decade. Having said that there is a deep knowledge of this period with little details, accurate and well researched scattered throughout giving a feeling of reality. That eras unnervingly, unpleasant and rather depressing views on sexuality are exposed like a sore scab on the knee of human history.
Split into three sub-sections, divided by the years 1947, 1944 and 1941, we are shown these people in situations that unravel as we read rather than knit together. Secrets are whispered at first in hushed, subtle phrases dropped in passing into a sentence which captures your attention propelling you on to find more clues to this and that individual. The story telling is understated using intelligent, natural ways in which each character exposes their flaws enabling the reader to see their lives played out on a sort of backward loop. The cohesion isn’t lost even though we read in reverse chronology the events that define their lives. This sleight of hand is a simple stroke of genius for in truth stories do not begin and end; the flow much in the way a stream does.
This is a splendid book. One worthy of the many awards than it won when first published. It will live long in the memory and hopefully will gather little dust on the shelves of literary fiction.
If only Shefari allowed four and a half stars
“A brilliant book and I'll be watching the BBC2 adaptation at 9.00pm on 12 July.”Christopher Hallas wrote this review Wednesday, February 13, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Beautifully written character driven novel set in the second world war and its aftermath”Colin Lusk wrote this review Tuesday, January 22, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A brilliant book...though not the easiest to read! Lol”Mickie wrote this review Monday, December 31, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“1940s London - intertwined lives, believable characters. An enjoyable read.”Mrs S R Thomas wrote this review Friday, July 27, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“ This book runs from the present to the past, generally I prefer past to present as I find that I can get to understand the characters in more depth. Why they make their choices? What might make them tick, etc. However, in this book going back through time does work.
Kay is the central character who is connected in some way to Helen, Julia, Vivian and Duncan. Although she does not necessarily feature the most she is the link. Kay is a lesbian who dresses like a man, she is merely acquainted to Duncan as he is a visitor to the doctor who lives and practises in the same building as Kay's flat. They pass on the stairs. Duncan is Vivian's brother. Vivian met Kay in wartime London. Kay was an ambulance driver and the unfortunate Vivian was a victim of circumstance. Kay, Julia and Helen's pasts are more entwined and the bond that links them stronger even if some of those ties are severed in the present day.
Ms Waters writes another brilliant book, detailing the lives of her characters in London at the time of the Blitz. The reader can visualise the devastation and disruption to the lives of these people, the horror of seeing one's home or place of work destroyed to dust. How frightening it must have been in the blackout, wandering around the streets when the alarm sounded, not knowing if you could get hit, what might jump out in the darkness, if you could get caught and told off by the ARP warden or the claustrophobia of being in a crowded shelter. The horrors of what these wonderfully good people like Kay and Mickey (the ambulance drivers) might find amongst the rubble, death; limbs flung away from their owners; blood; dirt; the smell of gas; and the general danger of the situation. Kay is caring, putting others needs first. She may not immediately strike the reader as a likeable character but as you read on you realise that she is indeed rather wonderful.
It may me realise even more what it must have been like for my parents, grandparents and other relatives to live with these horrors and the fear of not knowing if their loved ones would return from the front. ”
“I read this book as a third choice by this author, as my library did not have either Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith. I had been warned by other members of the Shelfari community that this novel is not Waters' best work, but I was willing to give it a try.
The book works backwards in time, starting in 1947, and ending in 1941. All of the characters are on the fringes of society as it was in the 1940's...there are a lesbians, a couple of conscientious objectors to war, a woman involved with a married man. All of the characters are loosely connected in one way or another. The structure of the book, in that it moves backwards in time, allows for many of these relationships to be elucidated.
I enjoyed the period detail of the book, its descriptions of life during and directly after WWII. However, I often found myself wondering when a particular chapter was going to end, and paging forward to find how long it was. This is never a good sign. I think if I wasn't the type of reader who always finishes a book, I would have given up on it.
Besides the tedium I experienced during the reading of this book, I also found that it was somewhat depressing. There seemed to be no hope for the characters in their time. Attitudes toward the situations that were in that time considered "the fringe" wouldn't relax for many decades to come. Perhaps this was part of the author's point.”
“Interesting literary structure.”Kate Castle wrote this review Sunday, May 27, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I found little that was compelling, uplifting, or insightful in this novel of the intersecting domestic lives of group of ordinary young people in London in the 40’s. An interesting device applied is the narrative portrayed in reverse chronological order, with segments for 1947, for 1944, and a brief one for 1941. This spans the period of post-war recovery, the time when the city is worn down by The Blitz, and the point where the impact of the war really begins to take effect. This allows Waters to reveal first a settled pattern in the characters’ lives, with unsettled aspects that point to mysteries as to their origins. Then the reader can look to uncover those origins and precursors in the earlier periods during the war. This is a war story, but the emphasis is on friendships and relationships. This is not like “Dr. Zhivago”, which renders how the individual concerns with love can survive all the dramatic destructions of war. Instead the conflict of armies at war, the politics, the fears for family survival from the bombings largely recede in favor of mundane day to day concerns over the status of love relationships. A novel element is that three of the main characters are lesbians--a secretary, a mystery writer, and a paramedic. Another key character is a young, naïve man with ambiguous sexual orientation. Maybe there is some kind of genius in portraying the dominance of such personal and domestic concerns, but the tale just didn’t succeed in engaging me emotionally.”Michael E wrote this review Wednesday, June 27, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No