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The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The Night Watch (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Sarah Waters

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
3,3081201,645 (3.69)1 / 497
Title:The Night Watch
Authors:Sarah Waters
Info:Riverhead Trade (2006), Edition: X, Paperback, 544 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:GLBTRT, Stonewall Book Awards, Stonewall Honor Books in Literature, 2007

Work details

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006)

  1. 51
    Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (withwill)
  2. 10
    Fault Lines by Nancy Huston (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: Both employ reverse chronology to tell a story with its roots in WWII
  3. 00
    The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (mrstreme)
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    Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (ebr_aumkw, kgriffith)
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    The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (kiwiflowa)
    kiwiflowa: both have female protagonists and are about the London Blitz during WWII

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English (113)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (3)  French (1)  All languages (120)
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This book was chosen by LibraryThing for a One LibraryThing One Book read by LibraryThing members in May and June 2015. This struck me as an interesting way to read a book and it was easy to get a copy from my local library. Other than that I didn't really know anything about the book so I had no preconceptions about it.

The book takes place in and after World War II and follows four relatively young Londoners, three women and one man, who are all defying society's norms regarding sexuality. Kay was an ambulance driver in the war and was a lesbian with mannish clothing and haircut. Helen worked in one of the war offices and has had relationships with both men and women. Vivien also worked in a war office as a typist. She entered into a relationship with a married man during the war. Duncan is Vivien's brother and he spent the war in jail although it is not clear until the last what his crime was. Duncan is also a homosexual. Besides the sibling relationship there are other connections between the main characters. The really interesting thing about the book is how it is structured. It starts in 1947, then goes back to 1944 and finishes in 1941 with the incidents that placed the characters in the situations they found themselves in later. This unconventional approach made the book more like a mystery which was just fine with me.

People who are repulsed by homosexuality should give this book a pass but for anyone else interested in the lives of ordinary people during the war I would recommend it. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jun 22, 2015 |
A historical fiction about some gay people starting in 1947 London and it goes back in time to 1944 and 1941. All of the lives are intertwined and the characters are developed further through time backwards. ( )
  terrygraap | Jun 17, 2015 |
Stories of several intertwined people. starting in post-war London and going backwards. In 1947 they're adjusting to post-war life. Someone remarks on how during the war, everybody was so kind and helpful to each other, just as in the Rebecca Solnit book I read recently. As the book moves backwards in time various things are revealed. Each of the characters has their own secrets and I liked seeing how relationships changed – had changed – in ways I didn't expect. There were also great descriptions of wartime life – ambulance drivers, air raids, a huge fire.

I liked it a lot, though at the end I was frustrated, hoping it would circle back to 1947 and we'd see what became of the characters, if changes hinted at the end of the first section came to pass. I'm still thinking about all the characters, comparing now and then, and re-read the earlier chapters to glean hints. I like feeling this engaged by a book.

The scene where Kay is certain that Helen has been killed by a bomb, and rushes to the scene, is very exciting and well written - the way Mickie helps her, the description of the fire and the firefighters. But don't we know, the whole time, that Helen's perfectly fine - because she's with Julia? So it's kind of an anticlimax.

One thing that was really wrong was the suicide scene between Alec and Duncan. It didn't work because we hadn't seen Alec before this, hadn't seen anything of his and Duncan's relationship. He tells Fraser everyone thinks Alec was his boyfriend, but he wasn't, and we don't see much more of him. Had he always been impulsive, always been able to convince Duncan to go along with his schemes? Beyond that, it just wasn't believable. "I've been called up - what am I going to do? I know, I'll kill myself - you do it too - that will convince them that war is wrong!" "I say, that's a wizard idea!"

Duncan's portrayed as an utterly passive character. He moved in with Mr Mundy and is having some kind of sexual relationship - that he doesn't like - with him. After Fraser re-enters his life, we see him putting on Brylcream and leaving his shirt open, the way Fraser does. So it's possible his relationship with Alec was the same, and going along with the suicide idea is in character, but I wasn't convinced.

I re-read the earlier chapters because I didn't understand what happened in the kitchen. After Alec made the cut and bled to death, what did Duncan do - get hysterical? make an attempt that failed? lose his nerve entirely? In 1944 when he's talking to Fraser he can't tell him "the simple truth" which I guess is that he couldn't go through with it. I wish I knew more about the law at that time - was he prosecuted for attempting suicide because he signed the note? Or is it that he aided a suicide, or what?

Other reviewers complain about something else that I think she got absolutely right: that Viv and Reggie are still together in 1947 despite how he abandoned her at the hospital after the abortion. Why is she still with this cad? Because that's exactly what people do, make excuses and stay with someone even though they do awful things. Maybe she likes the excitement, maybe she likes having the freedom of not being married to him, maybe she really is in love. Now in 1947, maybe seeing Kay and remembering why she gave her the ring is going to galvanize her to end it. She does say to Fraser "...what she'd done for me, you see, made me think of something else, that I didn't want to remember" and she feels like she could do anything. Will she and Fraser get together? I like to think so.
( )
  piemouth | Jun 16, 2015 |
The story line was very confusing to follow going backwards in time, the characters were dull and lifeless, bringing me to my overall conclusion that this novel lacked alot of substance to keep the reader interested. ( )
  Gatorhater | Jun 11, 2015 |
I can't decide if I liked this or not. It was an unusual book in that it told the story backwards. We begin in 1947 and end in 1941. Very real characters. I'll be interested to see what others have to say when LibraryThing reads this book. ( )
  njcur | Jun 10, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Watersprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Acqua, Giancarlo Dell'Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Adler, SigalTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Almazán, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
中村有希訳Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bingül, FigenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brandt, BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Camp, Marion Op denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danielsson, UllaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Defossé, AlainTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dewey, AmandaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
藍涓Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gawlik-Małkowska, MagdalenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Houstrup, VibekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Κορτώ, ΑύγουστοςTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parés, NúriaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Puchalská, Barbora PungeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Voss, AndreaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vujačić, PetarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, GabrieleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Сафронова, АлександраTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Lucy Vaughan
First words
So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord's door.
"But, isn't it funny -- we never seem to love the people we ought to."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159448905X, Hardcover)

Sarah Waters, whose works set in Victorian England have awards and acclaim and have reinvigorated the genres of both historical and lesbian fiction, returns with novel that marks a departure from nineteenth century and a spectacular leap forward in the career of this masterful storyteller.

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liasons, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of Londoners: three women and a young man with a past-whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in ways that are surprising not always known to them. In wartime London, the women work-as ambulance drivers, ministry clerks, and building inspectors. There are feats of heroism, epic and quotidian, and tragedies both enormous and personal, but the emotional interiors of her characters that Waters captures with absolute and intimacy.

Waters describes with perfect knowingness the taut composure of a rescue worker in the aftermath of a bombing, the idle longing of a young woman her soldier lover, the peculiar thrill convict watching the sky ignite through the bars on his window, the hunger a woman stalking the streets for encounter, and the panic of another who sees her love affair coming end. At the same time, Waters is absolute control of a narrative that offers up subtle surprises and exquisite twists, even as it depicts the impact grand historical event on individual lives.

Tender, tragic, and beautifully poignant, The Night Watch is a towering achievement that confirms its author as "one of the best storytellers alive today" (Independent on Sunday).

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:00 -0400)

Set in 1940s London, this story follows four characters - Kay, Helen, Viv and Duncan - as they deal with their everyday lives, set against the backdrop of World War Two.

(summary from another edition)

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Average: (3.69)
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