Book Reviews

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

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List Price: £8.99


Paperback: 506 Pages.

Published: 01 February 2006 by Virago, London

Edition: UK ed.

ISBN: 9781844082414

EAN: 9781844082414

Sarah Waters, the award-winning author of three novels set in Victorian London, returns with a stunning novel that marks a departure from the 19th century.


4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

Relationships in wartime London

This book is set in and around the second world war and is concerned with the relationships between a group of people. All of the relationships are non-standard and prohibited by the standards of the time - gay, lesbian and adulterous. All of the characters are living lives that are a little unusual for their time, often because of the relationship but also because of the war. This is not a happy book, bits of it are deeply tragic, but it is an involving story of difference and its consequences as well as showing the impact of the war on ordinary people. It's a powerful piece of writing but often very uncomfortable to read - especially because of the way in which the structure works.

The book actually starts after the war and this is the longest section. We are introduced to our main characters - Kay, Helen, Viv and Duncan. All of them are living less than ideal lives and in all those lives there is a lack of hope and an acceptance of sadness. The second section of the book reaches back into the war and outlines what has happened just before the events you have just read. On occasion this overturns your idea of the situation and it certainly helps you realise why all the characters are living lives which seem not to be ideal. The final section stretches back to nearer the beginning of the war and we see our characters when they had hope and expectation and begin to watch the beginning of events which will result in what we see at the start of the book. This is a section which can only be read with tension - you want to urge the characters to be more careful or to make different choices but you know what is happening and I, for one, read on in dread as I watched the inevitable unfold.

The structure of the book dominates how the story is told and there were times when I felt that it was so clever that the way in which the book was written almost overshadowed the story. It is, however, very clever in that by the time that you get to the end of the book you are re-evaluating the beginning and the situation in which the characters find themselves there. This is a book that will live with you after you have finished reading it. For me, although I found the story absorbing, the best bit of the book was the way in which the author conjured up the times in which the characters were living. The depiction of wartime London and the

privations of ordinary people rang really true. The scenes with the ambulance racing through the city to find bomb victims and what they found and how they reacted was incredibly believable. The relationships that form the core of the book are offset against a national tragedy and the book is stronger for the contrast.

I found this book compelling reading. I thought that the structure was clever and the setting admirably portrayed. In the end, however, the book was sad and the characters unfulfilled.

3.0 Stars3.0 Stars3.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Well Written Characters

This is a book about relationships. Set in Second World War London we meet a group of people some of whom, at first sight, appear to have no connection with each other. We begin just after the war has ended where we meet Julia and Helen, Kay, Viv and Reggie, and Duncan and Uncle Horace. We discover what is happening to them and their daily lives with some hints to their pasts. The author then jumps back in time to different periods in the war where we discover what happened to our characters and how they met each other and arrived at their post war situations. This sounds quite complex but actually it was very easy to follow.

Sarah Waters is a gifted writer and this shows quite clearly in the way that she builds her characters and plans their interactions. The ways in which they connect are often quite incidental but very skillfully done. The characters themselves become very real & I got quite caught up with some of their stories. I was especially taken with Viv's story who is, when we first meet her, in a relationship with a married man, Reggie.

I do need to point out that this book is not just about how people's lives interact. It is also about sexual relationships within these war years. There are very explicit descriptions of hetrosexual, gay and lesbian sex.  This is deeply ingrained in the book and features very strongly and in much detail. If you are uncomfortable with detailed sexual writing then this is not the book for you. I must also say that there is a considerable amount of strong language in this book. Again, this is quite integral to the plot  and occurs frequently.

I did admire the writing of this book and the way that the author created the storyline and characters. It is hard to say that I really enjoyed reading this book as I did find the amount of sex and bad language quite extreme. So, although well written, this isn't a book that you read for the great plot. This is a book that you read for it's insights into relationships.

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