Friday, 20 July 2012

Book Review: The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

Synopsis - The Night Watch is the extraordinary story of four Londoners: Kay, who wanders the streets in mannish clothes, restless and searching...Helen, who harbours a troubling secret...Viv, a glamour girl, recklessly loyal to her soldier lover...and Duncan, an apparent innocent, struggling with demons of his own.

Moving back through the 1940's, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit liaisons and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, this is an astonishing novel.

Review - This book runs from the present to the past, generally I prefer past to present as I find that I can get to understand the characters in more depth.  Why they make their choices?  What might make them tick, etc.  However, in this book going back through time does work.

Kay is the central character who is connected in some way to Helen, Julia, Vivian and Duncan.  Although she does not necessarily feature the most she is the link.  Kay is a lesbian who dresses like a man, she is merely acquainted to Duncan as he is a visitor to the doctor who lives and practises in the same building as Kay's flat.  They pass on the stairs.  Duncan is Vivian's brother.  Vivian met Kay in wartime London.  Kay was an ambulance driver and the unfortunate Vivian was a victim of circumstance.  Kay, Julia and Helen's pasts are more entwined and the bond that links them stronger even if some of those ties are severed in the present day.

Ms Waters writes another brilliant book, detailing the lives of her characters in London at the time of the Blitz.  The reader can visualise the devastation and disruption to the lives of these people, the horror of seeing one's home or place of work destroyed 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, if you could get caught and told off by the ARP warden or the claustrophobia of being in a crowded shelter.  The horrors of what these wonderfully good people like Kay and Mickey (the ambulance drivers) might find amongst the rubble, death; limbs flung away from their owners; blood; dirt; the smell of gas; and the general danger of the situation.  Kay is caring, putting others needs first.  She may not immediately strike the reader as a likeable character but as you read on you realise that she is indeed rather wonderful.

It may me realise even more what it must have been like for my parents, grandparents and other relatives to live with these horrors and the fear of not knowing if their loved ones would return from the front.  4*

The Night Watch is being shown on BBC2 on Thursday 26th July at 10.30pm BST.
ISBN 978-1-84408-241-4

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