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 …
I’m sure this will be no surprise to anyone who knows what a brilliant writer Sarah Waters is, but I loved this historic story of interlinking people during such an incredibly interesting time.
We start the book in 1947, as four very different people – Kay, Viv, Helen, and Duncan – as they deal with life in post-war Britain. What makes this story unique is we then move backwards in time for part two, back to 1944 when the country was in the miserable throes of bombings and rationing, and in part three, further back again to 1941. This means we know, in some ways, how the characters end up. We then slowly unpick how they came to be in that situation and why. It makes the reader feel like you really get to know them, and it adds extra depth to the story as well as plenty of moments when I thought ‘Ahhh THAT’S why that character was behaving like that’ or ‘That’s how that situation came to be…’
I always enjoy stories with seemingly unconnected characters, who we then discover are linked in more ways than we thought, and adding the extra plot device of starting at the end and working backwards made this book a memorable read. Often I am drawn to books with a strong sense of mystery but this book does not have it or need to rely on this – the characters and their interlinking lives are enough to draw me in completely and keep me there, though the start did feel a bit slow at times. Regardless, The Night Watch is beautifully written (I’d expect no less from Sarah Waters) and evokes a strong sense of time and place, which is so important in historical fiction. Highly recommended.
My rating: 4/5