The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Published by Riverhead Books
From the publisher:
Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners—three women and a young man with a past—whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and exquisite turns, only to change irreversibly in the shadow of a grand historical event.
This was my second time reading a Sarah Waters novel – The Little Stranger was the first – and while the two books of hers I’ve read are nothing like one another, there’s a certain style to her writing that came through in both novels that I really, really loved.
Waters is a master at developing her characters in subtle, simple ways that over the course of the book, lead the reader to feeling super close and connected to them. These characters are flawed, miserable at times, smart, witty, inspiring at times, and just trying to live decent, happyish lives despite the horrors of war around them. These characters were unique in that many of them were gay, in a time when being so was socially unacceptable. The way Waters handles this aspect of her story is to never explicitly handle it at all – which I loved. They are just people, women living ordinary lives in the 1940’s, who happen to also like other women, and this is an important aspect of their lives because in this time in history it had to be hidden, but at the same time, it’s just a small aspect of their personalities and who they are overall. I don’t think I’m explaining it well at all, but I just loved so much how while the sexuality of these characters played a part in the book, it was so far from the point of the book as to almost be a non-issue. AS IT IS FOR ALL STRAIGHT CHARACTERS IN ALL BOOKS. Does that make sense?
Waters jumps around in time throughout the book, starting from two years after the war, and ending the book just as the war is beginning. This was an extremely clever way to tell the stories of these characters, but I’ll admit that it was pretty confusing at first. And when I got to the end, I had to go back to a few parts of the beginning of the book to re-read them to remind myself how these characters ended up, five years later. I liked that aspect of the book, a lot honestly, but it did make me have to sit up and pay attention a little more than I may have had to otherwise.
The Night Watch is a mostly quiet novel, but Waters does such an incredible job of showing the disastrous aspects of war right alongside the ordinary aspects of living through a war. It is a beautifully written novel with characters I loved getting to know. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of Waters’ backlist soon.