The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

January 27, 2010 § 26 Comments

She supposed that houses, after all – like the lives that were lived in them – were mostly made of space. It was the spaces, in fact, which counted, rather than the bricks.

I don’t know if there’s anything I can say about The Night Watch without betraying the fact that I absolutely loved it, and that I’ve just found myself another favourite author in Sarah Waters.

Set in London during the 1940s, The Night Watch tells the story of mainly 4 people. The story starts in 1947, after the war has ended. We’re introduced to Kay, a somewhat masculine-looking woman, living as if without a purpose. We then get to know Duncan, a young man who works in a factory. He brings his Uncle Horace to the place where Kay lives every week, for his Uncle Horace needs to receive some form of treatment from Mr Leonard, the landlord of the place in which Kay lives in.

Duncan has an elder sister, Viv. She has a secret that she doesn’t tell anyone other than Duncan: she is seeing a married man. Viv works at a place with another woman, Helen, who also has her own secret: she is seeing a woman.


That’s about all I can write about the book without giving anything away, and all of that is actually revealed within, I think, the first 20 pages or so. Maybe a little more.

The story is told in reverse. Starting in 1947, we get to know the characters and how their lives have turned out to be after the war. And then we are brought back a few year to 1944, right smack in the middle of war, and there we are shown just how it is that our characters managed to end up the way they did. As if that weren’t enough, we’re brought back yet another few years, towards to end of the book, to 1941, just a little bit before war took to London, and some parts are finally introduced.

I was completely – – absorbed into the book. I was turning page after page after page, just willing the story to reveal more to me, tell me more about the characters. I’ll have to admit here, that I had a special place in my heart for Kay, and I just kept wishing there was more to read about her.

And then when I was somewhere near the end, I suddenly felt the need to pace myself. I just didn’t want it to finish. And when I got to the end of the book, which was more like the beginning of the story, I wanted to go back and start all over again.

It was that good.

Reading it was like tearing my heart up into a million little pieces, then trying to put them back together again. Everything was described so clearly, so vividly, I swear I could almost look up and see the dark streets, and smell the smoke and dust. Waters could go for pages describing the scenes, but at the same time, these physical descriptions are exactly what lead up to a very emotional explosion.

Sometimes I would think, I know what’s going to happen (since the story’s told backwards), but it felt like knowing what would happen only built up the anticipation of it. And when it does finally happen, it doesn’t happen as you thought it would have, characters don’t react the way you thought they would, and you’re reminded again that you’re just completely at Sarah Waters’ mercy, and you have to learn to expect the unexpected.

So. So. Amazing.

Rating: 5

For: LGBT Challenge, Orange Prize Project


Note: Now I don’t know if I should dive into the next Sarah Waters novel, or if I should let this sizzle, and spread out my reading of her work. She’s only got 5 novels out, she takes an average of 2.5 years to write a novel (took her 4 years to write this one!), and she’s not planning to start on her new novel till next year. I think I’ll spread it out. As far as I can hold out. I have completely fallen in love with her now.


§ 26 Responses to The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

  • Amanda says:

    I seem to have acquired some sort of block about Sarah Waters. I know that I should read something by her and I even really want to, but for some reason, I still haven’t. I own like 4 of her books, too. Sigh. I will do it. This will be the year.

    • Michelle says:

      OMG! You have 4 of her books?! But she’s only written 5! I am now jealous. =)

      I know what you mean about the block though. I’ve silently loved her for quite a while, though I’ve just never picked up any of her books for some reason or other. I was even afraid I might be disappointed now that I decided to finally read one of her books.

      I hope you enjoy reading her book, whichever you decide on. =)

  • Aimee says:

    I so need to read this book. YOU must MUST read Fingersmith, if nothing else. I’ve read Affinity and Tipping the Velvet, and while they are both good reads, Fingersmith is out of this world good.


    • Michelle says:

      Everyone says that. =)

      I’ve got Fingersmith sitting very seductively on my shelf, and it’s taking all my willpower to let it sit still for at least another month or so.

  • mee says:

    Oh wow and people say this is not even her best (right?). Well, you know my reading resolution for this year is to read one of Sarah Waters book, so just watch out! ;D The one I have is Fingersmith so I’ll be reading that one.

    • Michelle says:

      I think it’s a general consensus that Fingersmith is her best work so far. That’s actually half the reason why I want to leave it for later. I’m a little afraid that I might use it as a yardstick for her other books, which might not quite measure up.

  • JoV says:

    Yours is the voice I trust! if you say it’s that good, then Sarah waters has to be in my TBR list!!! 😀

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for the confidence. =) Believe me, she’s really good.

      On another note, I read on Mee’s blog that you won’t be blogging much? I’ve got you on my reader, so if and when you start blogging again, I’m looking forward to sharing thoughts with you. =)

  • savidgereads says:

    Oh I am so pleased that you loved this book as its one that I really enjoyed too. I have read The Little Stranger whcih is good but misses a certain something. Affinity is the other of hers I have read, and the least well known it seems, and it is just wonderful. I am planning on finally reading Fingersmith later in the year. Like you I want to spread her out a bit!

    • Michelle says:

      I am wanting to read all her books now, and I am trying to hunt down Affinity with the cover design that I like. Because it’s a little less known, it really is difficult to find.

  • kiss a cloud says:

    Wow, 5 stars. Have to start reading Sarah Waters. Maybe I’ll start with The Little Stranger so I won’t be coloured by her earlier, supposedly ‘better’ books.

  • Susan says:

    Oh, this sounds positively intriguing–I enjoy expecting the unexpected! Sarah Waters is now an author on my must-read list.

    Michelle, please stop by my blog because I have an award for you. I don’t know if you’re “into” the whole awards thing, but do stop by.

  • jo says:

    I have been trying to decide what my next Sarah Waters will be. I’ve read The little stranger and Fingersmith, but I can’t decide between this one and affinity. But this one sounds really good, so i think thats a vote for this.

  • nymeth says:

    FANTASTIC review, Michelle! This is my second favourite of her books, after Fingersmith, and I agree with pretty much all you said.

    I now feel awful that I’ve yet to make it to the post office to send more Sarah Waters goodness your way, but I will tomorrow for sure!

    • Michelle says:

      Aw, thanks Ana. And don’t worry about the post. I’m already so super excited that I’m going to be getting her book from you!

      I’m just so so happy to be spreading more Sarah Waters love. =)

  • diane says:

    Great review of Night Watch. I enjoyed Fingersmith and Tipping the Velver by this author, but want to read more by her as well.

  • I’m glad you loved this, for I have it on my shelves at the moment, just waiting to be read. Was planning on reading it next month (and have hence only skimmed through your review).

    Looking forward to it now.

    • Michelle says:

      Yes! Another person reading Sarah Waters! (I’m just loving the Sarah Waters love right now..) Will definitely pop by to read your thoughts on it when you do. =)

  • aphazia says:

    I’m glad you’re a Waters convert, haha. Do try Tipping The Velvet and Fingersmith. I read both and ADORED both. 🙂

  • chasing bawa says:

    The Night Watch was one of my favourite books of last year! Knowing that the story was going backwards, I really wasn’t sure whether it would work, but it did beautifully. You just want to know why and how all the characters found themselves in their respective situations, and like you, I tried to slow myself down towards the end because I didn’t want the book to end. And I have to confess that I liked it more than Fingersmith or The Little Stranger, although I love the way Sarah Waters writes and draws you into her tales. I’ve heard good things about Affinity so I’m saving that for a suitably dry reading patch.

    • Michelle says:

      This is her only book I’ve read so far, but I definitely know what it’s like to be saving her books for a later time. =) Everyone else seems to have enjoyed Fingersmith more than her other books, but to be honest, I’m really just looking forward to reading all her books at this point.

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