The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

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“The Night Watch” is neither a quick, nor particularly exciting, read, but I found it to be compelling and well worth the effort.The story is set in London, beginning in 1947, and then moving backwards in time to 1941. This was a time when homosexuality and lesbianism were taboo and attempted suicide was a criminal offence. It explores the lives and intertwined relationships of Kay, Helen, and Julia and also looks at sister and brother, Vivien and Duncan Pearce. I was impressed, as always, by the development of these characters by the excellent Sarah Waters ; although not particularly likeable, they are certainly clearly etched in my imagination.

I particularly liked the “backwards” storytelling. The story begins in post-war London in 1947 and paints a dreary picture of life at that time. All of the characters are introduced in this first part of the book and the book takes us back in time, filling in the gaps and answering the questions that arise in this first section. The second and third sections of the book are full of the harrowing life of Londoners in World War II – it is against this backdrop that Sarah Waters explores the themes of love, jealousy and suspicion; powerful emotions that can destroy lives. I think Sarah Waters is particularly talented at creating authentic settings and “The Night Watch” is no exception to this.

The book took me a long time to read, but it wasn’t because I was bored by it. It was so packed with emotion that at times, I needed to break off to allow it to all sink in. An intense, but absorbing book, it is one which I thoroughly recommend.

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