The Night Watch, Sarah Waters

Waters swaps the corsets and crinolines of her previous novels for post-war Britain, but, like her other work The Night Watch has a cleverly constructed plot, precise capturing of historic detail, and a focus on the unwritten lesbian relationships of the time.

Waters reveals her story in reverse chronology, beginning in the post-war daze of 1947. We see the profound impact of war on the four central characters: glamorous Viv, needy Helen, ‘mannish’ Kay and the fey innocent, Duncan. ‘Sudden horrors’ are found in ordinary sights, like the slice of pink flesh glimpsed in the opening of a meat tin, revealing dark undercurrents to their day-to-day lives.

The 1944 section shows the intertwining nature of the characters’ relationships. We see the brutalities of war– Kay as an ambulance driver collects dismembered corpses– but it is the personal tragedies that carry the most emotional weight.

Dramatic scenes– from romantic encounters born of the need to hide from bombs to the almost unbearably vivid description of an illegal abortion– form the powerful emotional core of the novel.

Virago Press Ltd

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