Book Review: The Night Watch

thenightwatchRead for: The F-word is reading Tipping the Velvet, which I’ve already read. I’m reading another Sarah Waters instead.

Rating: 4/5

This is a pretty fantastic piece of WWII historical fiction. I have read Fingersmith (which I loved) and Tipping the Velvet (which I didn’t love but still really liked) and have a few of her other novels on the shelf but hadn’t read them yet; The Night Watch being one of them. She has a new novel coming out this fall, so I thought I would get caught up on her existing books before it is released. Additionally, the F-word is reading Tipping the Velvet this month which further inspired me to get moving on her other novels, seeing as I’ve already finished TTV. The Night Watch is very haunting and tender, and the depictions of WWII London are (what I can only assume, since obviously I wasn’t actually there) chillingly accurate. Waters has an incredible talent for creating deep and complex characters, and twisting and weaving them all together in one way or another. Night Watch revolves around four characters; Helen and Kay, and siblings Duncan and Viv, and the narrative starts in post-war 1947. Piece by piece the characters and their secrets are introduced. What I found most interesting about this book is how the timeline moves backwards, so when the characters hint at the events of their past, rather than having them revealed to the reader as the story unfolds, Waters literally takes you back in time first to 1944, then finally to 1941. This is a great concept, with the one minor draw back that after setting the stage in 1947 I wanted to know what was going to happen to Duncan, Viv, Helen and Kay, but instead it is revealed what had already happened to them. I was captivated, none the less.

As is the case with her other novels, Night Watch features a number of lesbian characters. I really appreciate that the characters are gay, but that that isn’t what the story is about. Waters writes compelling characters that just so happen to be gay and then enfolds them in a story that is so magical and thoroughly developed that you forget that the characters are lesbians. It doesn’t feel gimmicky in the way that homosexual characters can sometimes feel when they are injected into a story as a way for the author to shout “Hey I’m ok with this! I’ve included a lezzo to prove it!” Waters writes lesbian fiction effortlessly, if “lesbian fiction” is even a category… it really is just fiction, regardless of the orientation of the characters within. I would definitely recommend this book; Night Watch is a slow burn but the payoff is huge.

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