Thursday, July 10, 2008

BOOK: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Chunkster Challenge; Booker shortlist 2006; an Orange July

The Night Watch is post war London, but going back in time, as we follow four main characters. It's an interesting technique in that we know the ending and the past is hinted at, so the story is how they got there. In the first part of the book 1947, we meet Kay, a woman who dresses as a man and can't seem to find the purpose she had during the war as an ambulance driver; Duncan, working in a factory, but who spent the war in prison; Viv, escaping her day job as a match maker to have trysts with her married lover Reggie; and Helen, who works with Viv, and is desperately jealous of her lover, a writer named Julia. The first part sets up the second section, 1944, and all the situations and ways that the charcters overlap to give us 1947. The final section, 1941 is almost not needed, but it does give the first meetings and ultimate set ups.

I raced through 1944, with many oh! moments as things became clear. Ultimately, it was a very sad book as you realize the characters and their choices and how depressing their lives were at the end. I should go back and read the first part again, but I hate to do that. Nobody is very happy and I guess that's the result of war, but also it is the choices they made. The characters spend the war thinking things will change, it will all be better, but it's just their life and things don't change that dramatically. In the same way that overweight people think their life will be better if only they can lose weight, but the things that made them unhappy are still there; or people who win the lottery think their lives will all be better, but it's not money that made them unhappy in the first place.

Wartime London with the blitzes and warnings was described vividly. I was struck with the difference in war scenes from other books I've read recently, like The Cellist of Sarajevo and A Long Way Gone (Sierra Leone.) Both of those were civil wars with rebels taking over. London had a desperate feel, but at least they were all in it together. The government had departments set up to reimburse people who had been bombed. The enemy was clear - the Germans, and they were under attack and all working together, by Jimmy. The civil war states are so less clear, and there is no help for the citizens since it is some of the citizens who are the enemy. Not that London was a good place to be, but it was a clearly defined war as opposed to Bosnia or Sierra Leone where no one was helping anyone, just people living and hoping this was not their life forever.

This book finishes the Chunkster Challenge, and a personal 'check off the list' book that I've been meaning to read for a year now. Plus I've read one for the Orange July.


  1. Glad that you enjoyed it. I have loved the 3 books by her that I have read so far

  2. My TBR list is getting out of control - there have been so many great reviews lately!

    My gram lived in Coventry, England during the war and has told me many stories about the bombing of Britain. Fortunately her life turned out very well unlike the gals in this book. Regardless, I'd still like to read this one, if only for the setting.

  3. katrina - I gather her ohter books are Victorian instead. Which is the best to begin with?

    heather j - Oh, you would definitely get the setting. Waters does a terrific job, and it really made me want to go walk around London.

  4. Excellent review! This one is on my TBR.

  5. This sounds like a great book. I've put it on my list to borrow from the library.

    Re your comment about Murakami: "After Dark" isn't very long. In fact I wanted it to be longer! I reviewed it if you're interested. Use the search box on my sidebar for quick access to the review. "After Dark" came out recently in paperback with a GREAT cover (I love book covers!).

  6. I have been meaning to read Sarah Waters for a long time now. I just never seem to get to her though.

    This one sounds really good.

  7. I really, really enjoyed Night Watch - stories of the Brits during the Blitz almost always please me. :)


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