Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

My second book recommendation for 2006 is a hearty one. I just finished The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and loved it. I had previously attempted to read Waters' Tipping the Velvet but not being a fan of period pieces or historical fiction, I abandoned it fairly quickly. However, The Night Watch is set in wartime London, something that fascinates me, partly because when I lived there I used to wander around looking at which buildings survived the Blitz and which didn't (like Kings College London where I spent my days). And partly because I read a fascinating account of the effect the Blitz had on Londoners in A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century.

The book is comprised of four storylines that center around individual characters, but they are all connected in some way. Kay, a former ambulance driver, who now dresses like a boy and spends her days spying on the patients being treated by her landlord. Viv, who is consumed with loyalty to her married ex-soldier boyfriend and her brother, Duncan, recently released from prison. And finally Helen, who cannot stop second-guessing her lover for some mysterious reason.

Waters' style is somewhat cold and clinical, but this turns out to be extremely effective as she layers the story until small nuances are picked up and the connections between characters are realized. The book also reads backwards - beginning with the post-war exhaustion of 1947, through the numbness of 1944, to the disbelief and suspended normalcy of the Blitz in 1941. A piece of work I will have to read again to truly see everything Waters has built in this story - and very much recommended. For a much better review that this, The Guardian comes to the rescue.

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