The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is probably one of the most famous lesbian authors in the UK. She has been nominated and indeed won many awards and has had almost all of her books adapted. The one which hasn’t is her most recent ‘The Night Watch’ and have not long put it down and I really enjoyed it. My only other dabble with Sarah Waters has not been with the Victorian romps ‘Tipping the Velvet’ or ‘Fingersmith’ those joys are still to come. No, my first Sarah Waters was ‘Affinity’ her lesser known novel which is a dark creepy gothic novel which I really loved and was completely drawn into. So how would I take to The Night Watch and would it live up to the hype?

Firstly I am not going to be someone who complains that Sarah has deviated from her usual Victorian romps to the wartime of the 1940’s. Having only read one of her books so far I don’t have her in my mind as only writing and certain era and ‘how dare she change that’, so I am open to her writing war torn England. This setting for Waters seems an effortless one as I was totally in the moment of the novel and never once felt that what I was reading wasn’t real. You should feel like that with all books but you don’t always. Things like the rarity of coffee, the explosions of bombs, to the cost of silk pyjamas, Sarah had clearly researched the background to the novel down to the smallest details. Now if changing the era for this novel as opposed to the others she also did something new, she decided to write it backwards.

The funny thing is when someone tells you that a book has been written backwards it instantly makes you think that a book is going to be really hard to read and this isn’t, it’s delightful to read. It also makes you think that the author has done something incredibly clever, which they have, but then again books told in flashbacks are quite common and also the fact that the start of the book was actually the end meant that obviously you knew the ending from the get go and somehow that didn’t work for me as well as I had hoped even though there is a huge twist at the end (though technically the start) of the book. There is something delicious about digging through characters pasts and she still managed a few twists and surprises which is no mean feat it just left me feeling like I didn’t need to get involved so much.

All that aside, I did enjoy the adventures of Kay, Helen, Viv and Duncan although I never really liked any of them, but good fiction isn’t all about loving the lead characters. Each one had a very interesting history and you didn’t always know what was coming which was great. The characters were believable and the story of sexuality in that time was really interesting to read about. There was one issue I had which was with Duncan (Waters first gay male character) and his back story which was utterly harrowing but was almost written in an overly calm way when I can’t imagine that you would feel calm about such things. Hard to explain when you are trying desperately hard not to give the ending away.

I loved Affinity and Sarah Waters has wowed me once more with another wonderful novel. Also I have to admit as there are so many books about wars it takes a lot for me to really enjoy a book set in that era and this one had me pretty much from hello. I also think its great to see such brilliant and striving gay characters from this era, which I don’t think is a voice from that period I have heard in a novel before. This book definitely comes highly recommended. I am most definitely looking forward to more afternoons reading more of Waters work.


~ by greatgayreads on October 7, 2009.

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