One major reason I love Sarah Waters’ books is that she paints such a rich history for women. I love how she features lesbians and lesbian life throughout history. There is much written about men and gay men (natch, why shouldn’t men take over literature too?) and yet, not a lot of quality, compelling, raw, devastating and accurate prose written about women, women who loved other women. It’s so important that we have Sarah Waters.
The Night Watch is my favourite Waters novel. It’s perfect. Everything about the way she constructed the book, everything about the editing of it, the descriptions of World War II and its aftermath (gah, I can’t get over how well she writes period dramas, without delving into cliched tropes), the characters, the relationships. It’s perfection, beginning to end.
And oh, how I adored the people we met.
Gentle, vicious, frustrating, frustrated, impulsive, silly Helen.
Noble, complicated, intelligent, miserable Kay.
Gorgeous, devastating, intimidating, wealthy Julia.
Irrepressible, disappointed, beautiful, melancholy Viv.
Interestingly, Waters chose to begin this novel at the end, and go back in time to find out how our characters came to be where and who they are. It’s a frustrating tactic (because in a way, we’ll know all we know by the first act) but an effective one, as Waters peels the onion slowly and lyrically.
She brings wartime London alive with precision and grace, and her characters stumble through their lives, never quite making the right decisions, never quite realizing where they will end up. The relationships are so skillfully woven here, and the vividness of certain scenes and images still stick in my mind.
By the end, you might feel a little cheated – I did when I first read it- but I now choose to marvel at how Waters unraveled their stories and how she showed what was truly vital for us to know – after all, hindsight is 20/20, and these characters never knew and might never have dreamt, where they’d be after the war.
Were they would be after those rash decisions, when it seemed as though the world would end – but then, it didn’t.