It’s a cliche I realize, but I find Sarah Waters books immensely readable, meaning that once I start one, I have a hard time putting it down. Fortunately, her new book The Night Watch continues this tradition. She’s made a career writing about sex and love in Victorian era England, but this new book she set in London during the 1940’s and moves backward through time. Beginning in 1947, we move through 1944 and end at the beginning in 1941. It follows 4 Londoners, 3 women and 1 man, whose lives connect in both small and large ways: Kay, an ambulance driver during the war, dresses in mannish clothes. Helen, sweet and honest, harbors a secret. Glamorous Vivian remains loyal to her married soldier lover through hard times. And Vivian’s brother Duncan has his own demons to battle.
The mastery of the settings is one of Sarah Water’s greatest strengths. You can picture and smell the London streets from her descriptions. She also understands the intricacies of relationships–the jealousies, the feelings of unworthiness one can feel, the intensity of a new love. Another strength of this book was her choice of telling the intertwining stories backward. It doesn’t take away from the book, it enhances the stories. While the depth of her main characters strengthen the story, some of the minor characters did not seem developed enough, especially where it might have helped the plot. But even with its flaws, I enjoyed this book immensely.