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The Night Watch [Hardcover]

Sarah Waters
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2006

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners - three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching . . . Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret . . . Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover . . . Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances . . .

Tender, tragic and beautifully poignant, set against the backdrop of feats of heroism both epic and ordinary, here is a novel of relationships that offers up subtle surprises and twists. The Night Watch is thrilling. A towering achievement.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; First Edition edition (2 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844082466
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844082469
  • Product Dimensions: 4 x 14.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 362,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966 and lives in London. Author of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith and The Night Watch, her most recent book is The Little Stranger. All of her books have attracted prizes: she won a Betty Trask Award, the Somerset Maugham Award and was twice shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Fingersmith and The Night Watch were both shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange prizes, and Fingersmith won the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger Award for Historical Crime Fiction and the South Bank Show Award for Literature. Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith have all been adapted for television.

The Little Stranger was a bestselling hardback and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Product Description


The Night Watch is a truthful, lovely book that needs no conjuring tricks to make you want to read it again' Philip Hensher, Observer ('Brilliantly done... the period detail never overwhelms the simple, passionate human story. It's a tour-de-force of hints, clues and dropped threads' Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday)

The Night Watch leaves you with the sense of having read something rich and complex pared down with consummate skill by a first-class storyteller into a series of deceptively simple tales of love. Which is a fancy way of saying that Sarah Waters's latest ('Waters secret is her absolute control of the pace - each strand of the plot is paid out carefully at the same speed, no rushing, no favouritism. The characters are given equal weight and time, so that by the end of the first section you're equally grippe)

....this outstandingly gifted novelist releases her imagination into her most compelling depiction yet' Peter Kemp, Sunday Times ('It is from this reverse structure that the novel draws its haunting power, forcing the reader to experience time not as an ongoing narrative but as memory. We see, in fact, the beginning of each individual tragedy after we have witnessed it consequence.)

Carol Ann Duffy, Daily Telegraph ('The Night Watch is sharply and compassionately observed, richly coloured, and compelling to read' Michele Roberts, Independent)

Book Description

The number one bestseller in hardback, a tender and tragic story set against the turbulence of wartime London

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't Mention The War 6 Jan 2006
By Keris Nine TOP 500 REVIEWER
The cover of the proof copy of Sarah Waters new novel comes adorned with might well be the subtitle of the book – “A Lot Of People Who Lived Through the War Don’t Like to Talk About It”, but it’s not just the war that is discreetly pushed aside by each of the characters, it is their unwillingness to face up to who they are, to the secret lives they were forced to lead and the terrible actions that each of them were driven to during a very turbulent time in their lives.
Opening in 1947 after the war, each of the characters has a dark secret they wish to block out. Helen and Viv work together in a London dating agency on Oxford Street. Helen is in love with Julia, a writer of mystery fiction, but the necessity of keeping her love secret and her own jealousy is tearing their relationship apart. Viv is having an affair with a married man, Reggie – a relationship that is doomed as he is never going to leave his wife. Viv’s brother Duncan was imprisoned during the war years over an incident that is of great distress to his father and sister. A sensitive boy, he lives now with his ‘Uncle Horace’ who he knows from prison. When by chance he meets Fraser, who he also knew from prison, the claustrophobic, locked-away existence becomes too much for him to bear, but Fraser also opens Viv’s eyes to how restricted her own life with a married man is. Connecting many of these characters is Kay, a mysterious boyish-looking girl, who seems to have endured the hardships of the war better than most, but to a cost. The toll of the war years on the characters is covered in the remaining two sections of ‘The Night Watch’ as it then moves backwards in time to 1944 and 1941.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are a few things about Sarah Waters' books, the fact you can't put her books down, and read them at the speed of light and also that she REALLY knows about the era she's writing about. All that same quality is in this novel.
The story follows the intriguing stories of four main characters; Kay, Viv, Helen and Duncan. The characterisation is fantastic and you don't have to read too much before you really get a sense of the type of person each character is and become totally absorbed in following the characters.
It's a very clever novel, starting in 1947, then going back to 1944 and ending in 1941, so as the blurb suggests, you end with the beginning. Like a previous reviewer I felt the last section wasn't really needed as it didn't further what you needed to know about the characters and for me personally I'd have prefered to have gone back to 1947 by that point as it felt like some of the storylines were left with loose ends.
The setting of war-torn London is brilliantly presented and described to the reader, and the sections on Kay and her work in the ambulance service are very gritty, realistic and historically accurate; going to bomb sites to deal with the injured and dead and how that affected her personality.
It's also excellent writing setting the scene and situations faced by the ordinary women working in London in the 1940s, and the things faced every day by people trying to go about their own business.
Throughout the book there is a wonderful suspense and tension and little things revealed all along, with some wonderful twists and plot links. A really good book should always leave the reader wanting more, but after reading this book not only did I want more, but it felt more like it was unfinished and I felt several things were left unresolved, unless of course that is the author's intention.
This is still a superb read though, and highly recommended.
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78 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An involved historical drama with human interest 11 Sep 2006
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
I loved this book. I should declare a fondness for involved historical dramas with human interest, so perhaps The Night Watch had a starting advantage.

The novel, set in 1940s London, followed various young people through the war and the immediate aftermath: Kay, Julia and Helen - three gay women; Reggie and Viv - a soldier and his mistress; and Duncan - Viv's mixed up brother. The characters are rich, and the secondary characters are no less vivid. The novel has space - six years, nearly five hundred pages, and a widely drawn cast which allows for a lot of plot development and intrigue.

The detailing is superb, with scenes described to perfection. This is never overbearing, but the beauty is in the clarity. And there is humanity and humour amongst it all. It is interesting to contrast the impact of the occasional terrorist incident today and the nightly bombing, killing and devastation that people endured only 60 years ago. And it was especially interesting to reflect on the helplessness that prisoners must have felt, unable to seek safety or shelter as bombs dropped around them.

Sarah Waters uses perfect judgement, too, in addressing homosexuality in 1940s Britain in such a subtle and caring way. She focuses on the people and the love, rather than the sex and the scandal. This is a rare feat that her male counterparts could learn from.

The novel is narrated in three chunks, in reverse chronological sequence. This gives it an odd feel, and I am sure we will all have preferences about which chunk we felt most engaged with and how we might have ordered it. Personally, I preferred the middle: the 1944 chunk. Its ending, as ambulancewoman Kay discovers the fate of her lover Helen, is my personal emotional crescendo.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars High Hoyland Book Group
A very engaging book once you remember who's who. It's intriguing to discover the back story of each character so haphazardly. I enjoyed Finger Smith more.
Published 1 month ago by MRS S WEBSTER
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much going on
While this book could be considered 'experimental' in the way it moves back from 1947 to 1941, there is too much going on - too many plot lines - to make the experiment a success. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. A. Cleave
5.0 out of 5 stars The night watch
Loved this book.. Sarah waters is simply a brilliant author. I really liked the way everything fit together from start to finish.. superb
Published 4 months ago by Paulie
3.0 out of 5 stars nowt so queer as...
A very queer story of queer folk experiencing queer adventures in a queer book with a queer time reversal structure where the queer characters speak a queer language with a queer,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by pierre
5.0 out of 5 stars love and fear in the crash of war
I was born during the war, my direct experience of the war is zero.
I fully experienced the immediate aftermath of war - the deserted but easily accessible air-raid shelter,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Geoffrey
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant book
Sarah Waters is an excellent writer, and this is one of her best books (all her books are excellent, but this one especially). Read more
Published 8 months ago by Stephanie Jenner
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast moving, credible and exciting
One of the best descriptions of war-time London and what it must have been like to be on the "night watch" that I have read. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mrs G Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Impressive writing, this book is very much at home in its wartime setting, and the story beautifully intertwines the lives of the main characters, exploring a rich variety of... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Anna Edgar
5.0 out of 5 stars gradual revelations
We like books that go backwards. It's like getting to know people in relationships who, over time, gradually reveal more of their pasts. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
3.0 out of 5 stars author hates men
Found this book very bleak and the description of lesbian sex was not for me or the rest of my reading group - but the novel did promote lots of lively discussion. Read more
Published 10 months ago by JENNIFER WHYTE
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