Best known for her Victorian-era historical fiction, Sarah Waters has chosen the more recent past for her latest novel. The story takes place in London and is set during and just following World War II. It is a look at ordinary citizens trying to live their lives against a backdrop of violence not of their own making.
In The Night Watch, the reader meets an unlikely cast of characters who seem to be as shell-shocked as the city they live in. The book opens with this line, "So this, said Kay to herself, is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord's door." (pg. 3) Kay and Mickey, Helen and Julia, Vivian and Reggie, Duncan and Fraser, all are struggling with the resumption of lives that will never be the same.
Waters begins her story at the end, after the war, and works her way back in time to the beginning. Her depiction of the era and locations are so detailed, the reader gets the feeling of being in the same room with the characters, perhaps standing in a corner so as not to be noticed. As the story progresses (regresses?), the plot twists and turns with plenty of surprises and revelations to keep the reader thoroughly engrossed.
I feel the emphasis of this book is twofold: 1) the relationships the characters have with each other and 2) the ravaging effect of war on innocent civilians. Waters effectively depicts same-sex relationships with compassion and without a sense of sensationalism that one might anticipate. She also delivers a very strong and effective anti-war message. This book certainly resonates with the current state of military affairs.Overall, an excellent read. Rating: 5/5