‘I go to the cinema,’ said Kay; ‘there’s nothing funny about that. Sometimes I sit through the films twice over. Sometimes I go in half-way through, and watch the second half first. I almost prefer them that way – people’s pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures.’ -From The Night Watch, page 110-
In The Night Watch, Sarah Waters has created tension and mystery by peering backwards into the past – beginning in 1947 and regressing back in time so that the end of the novel is actually the beginning of the story. This structure is at once unsettling and fascinating.
The novel spins around four Londoners and their significant others and explores the impact of war on relationships. The reader is introduced to each character – Kay, Helen, Viv and Viv’s brother, Duncan – immediately following WWII in the year 1947. Each character carries secrets and is struggling with events in their history which are undisclosed to the reader. As the novel progresses, Waters carefully unwraps the past, drawing the threads of the characters’ lives together to create a stunning expose about sexuality and the tenuous nature of love amid the historical significance of war.
One of the aspects of the novel which touched me was the exploration of the repercussions of war on youth.
Waters’ prose – nuanced and full of empathy for her characters – is a bit like reading a narrative poem. Her descriptions set the reader into the novel, revealing the beauty of the human spirit amid the horror of night-time air raids and causalities. The story is a beautifully rendered, character driven look at World War II from 1941 to 1947.
The Night Watch was shortlisted for the Booker and Orange Prizes – and it is easy to see why. This was my first Sarah Waters novel, but it will not be my last.