Set in reverse chronological order in 1947, 1944 and 1941, Waters weaves together a tale of love, loss, anguish set against the tumultuous background of the Second World War.
The Night Watch tells the stories of Ambulance worker Kay and her lover Helen, Viv a young typist involved in an affair with married soldier lover Reggie, and Duncan, Viv's younger brother sent to prison for his 'shameful' past.
What is so striking about Waters' novel is how much of the story is told through what is not said. The retrospective advantage given to the reader by the novel's reverse chronological structure means the reader can sense for example the dissolution of Helen and Kay's relationship from subtle hints rather than explicit statements due to the fact that in the initial 1947 section they are no longer together. The effect of this is that the events become all the more poignant and emotive. As readers, we are allowed to feel the same disillusionment, or in the case of Viv happiness by knowing how the story turns out from first opening the book. Kay laments in the opening chapter 'So this is what i have become'. In beginning the novel this way, Water's turns the traditional novel structure on its head by focusing on how her characters become what they do, rather than usuing their eventual situations as a climax to the novel.
As with her Victorian trilogy, Waters has spent a lot of time carefully researching the period in which this novel is set and it definately shows. The Night Watch gives a real sense of the period which adds not only to the believability to her characters, but also lends a certain credability to the novel. Chick lit this is not! Instead we are given an insight into attitudes of the period towards homosexuality and any kind of 'deviance' from the norm. While through the characters of Kay, Helen and Julia we are presented with a gripping love triangle, we are also confronted of the struggles faced by homosexual couples in not so distant times. Waters wondefully emphasises this idea by reversing sexual sterotypes and presenting Viv and Reggie's heterosexual relationship as one of the least functional and loving in the novel, while the homosexual relationships presented if not entirely straight forward are at least loving and passionate.
Like her previous novels then, Waters work is as much astute social observation as it is entertaining fiction.
The end result is of serious issues, cleverly and subtley dealt with in a way that is both suprising and compelling to the reader. The coinciding plots and hints dropped throughout the novel make The Night Watch a page turner you will be unable to put down. Water's incredible attention to detail and fantastic characterisation make this book one of those that you are always a little sad to have finished.