THE NIGHT WATCH (Sarah Waters)

41DEFkZMC4L._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_The story is told in three parts, starting with 1947 and finishing with 1941, so you are starting in the middle. As this novel is character driven, the book isn’t about what will happen (which is what plot-driven books are all about) and tying up loose ends; Waters is concerned with what has happened.

I found the first 170 pages confusing at first and quite slow-moving. This was a pity, because the other two parts soon gained my attention, and I found the book far more interesting, once I started on Part 2, dated 1944. The plot primarily concerns six characters, and is told through the viewpoints of four of them – Kay, Helen, Vivien and her brother, Duncan, with Julia and Robert also having important roles.

Kay, Helen and Julia are involved in a lesbian love triangle, and Robert is Duncan’s companion in prison. It is a little difficult to know, in the end, whether homosexual feelings are implied, between the two men, or just a friendship. Kay – with another lesbian friend – works for the ambulance service during the war, Helen and Viv know each other via their work in a marriage bureau or dating agency in the post war period, and glamorous Julia is a writer, adored by Helen.

Viv has an affair with a married soldier, Reggie, and the results of that affair are shown during and after the war; the reason for Duncan’s stay in prison is not documented, but only hinted at, until the event which has brought him there is revealed, at the end (the beginning of the story) of the book. His time in prison is shown with clarity though.

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There are many characters to focus on, and not all of them ring true. But the author is very good with detail, and bringing the 1940s to life. Some of the plot devices may have been more satisfying if some of the questions left open at the end, had been answered, as part of the book’s climax.

I found Duncan and Viv’s stories the most interesting, and the work done by the girls on the ambulance, compelling. War-time London was a good background to the story, it was easy to get caught up in it all. The reader can visualize the devastation and disruption to the lives of these people caught up in the Blitz; the horror of seeing one’s home or place of work blasted to dust.

How frightening it must have been in the blackout, wandering around the streets when the alarm sounded, not knowing if you could get hit, what might jump out in the darkness, being told off by the ARP warden, or the claustrophobia of being in a crowded shelter. Reading about these things made me feel grateful I don’t have to experience them in reality.

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