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The Night Watch Hardcover – March 23, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (March 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448905X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594489051
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Waters (Fingersmith) applies her talent for literary suspense to WWII-era London in her latest historical. She populates the novel with ordinary people overlooked by history books and sets their individual passions against the chaotic background of extraordinary times. There are Kay, a "night watch" ambulance driver; her lover, Helen; two imprisoned conscientious objectors, upper-class Fraser and working-class Duncan; Duncan's sister, Viv; Viv's married soldier-lover, Reggie; and Julia, a building inspector–cum–mystery novelist. The novel works backward in time, beginning in 1947, as London emerges from the rubble of war, then to 1944, a time of nightly air raids, and finally to 1941, when the war's end was not in sight. Through all the turmoil on the world stage, the characters steal moments of love, fragments of calm and put their lives on the line for great sex and small kindnesses. Waters's sharply drawn page-turner doesn't quite equal the work of literary greats who've already mapped out WWII-era London. But she matches any of them with her scene of two women on the verge of an affair during a nighttime bombing raid, lost in blackout London with only the light of their passion as a guide. (Mar. 23)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In the fall of 1947, an androgynous woman walks aimlessly through the scarred streets of London, adjusting her cufflinks. An ambulance driver during the Blitz, she now does nothing more dramatic than go to the cinema, arriving midway through a film and watching the second half first—"People's pasts, you know, being so much more interesting than their futures." Likewise, this historical novel begins at the end and moves backward, tracing the lives of its characters from peacetime Britain to the early years of the war. The centerpiece of the book is set in 1944, when the characters come fully alive, creeping through blackout London—an apocalyptic landscape of rubble and ash, searchlights and fires. Waters, acclaimed for her Victorian-era romps, has done meticulous research, and renders wartime scenes with unnerving authenticity.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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More About the Author

Sarah Waters is the bestselling author of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch. Winner of many literary awards, she has been shortlisted for both the Man Booker and Orange Prizes. She lives in London.

Customer Reviews

This story by Sarah Waters is remarkable.
D. Apere
It was impossible to sympathize with most of the characters, not because they were weak or venal (they were) but because they were boring.
K. Freeman
I actually found much of this book to be a bit depressing too.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"We never seem to love the people we ought to; I can't think why." These words, spoken by one of the central characters near the end of this sensitive book, might well serve as the epigraph for the whole. As a love story, it is passionate and true, but untidy because it is true; the truth and awkwardness go hand in hand, both beautifully reconciled by Sarah Waters' unusual narrative method. The novel traces the changing emotional relationships among a group of women (plus a few men) whose lives intersect in London during the two main periods of the Blitz, in 1941 and 1944. So completely do we get to know these characters that it is tempting to talk about them as though already conversant with their backgrounds. But one of the joys of Sarah Waters' storytelling is the manner in which she reveals information piece by piece, starting after the War and working backwards. It would be a shame to spoil this pleasure for a new reader.

But one can at least quote the opening sentence: "So this," said Kay to herself, "is the sort of person you've become: a person whose clocks and wrist-watches have stopped, and who tells the time, instead, by the particular kind of cripple arriving at her landlord's door." The year is 1947, and Kay appears as a casualty of war, living alone in a declining area of South London, in a poky flat in the house of a faith healer. Yet we shall soon glimpse a different Kay: a woman of elegance and style, performing almost daily acts of heroism in her wartime work, and responsible for many of the epiphanies of grace which illuminate this story of a dark period.

The book has three sections: the first, set in 1947, is 175 pages in the paperback edition; the second, set in 1944, is the longest at 290 pages; the third, set in 1941, is only 50 pages.
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82 of 95 people found the following review helpful By K. Freeman on April 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An interestingly structured account of several characters in 1940's London.

Waters starts with the present and works backward, illuminating the present situation, which appears innocuous and even shallow at first, by showing what happened in the past. The present gains depth, and even a touch of horror, as we see the jealous lover who betrayed someone to be with the person whose absences she now violently suspects, and the continued relationship between a woman and the man who abandoned her as she fought for her life.

It's an interesting plot structure, and the fact that it naturally lessens tension is somewhat made up for by the ugly depths that we learn lie behind our initial picture. Dramatic individual scenes keep the immediate interest level fairly high.

Having loved all three of Waters' previous novels, though, I was disappointed by this. It was impossible to sympathize with most of the characters, not because they were weak or venal (they were) but because they were boring. Their concerns seemed mundane and their personalities unremarkable. In addition, strangely precious dialogue had a jarring effect and made it hard to take the narrative seriously at times.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on May 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
After reading Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith I knew that I had to go hunt up her other works. This time instead of the Victorian world, the setting is that of World War II, when the bombs of the Blitz are shattering London. Waters takes the lives of a handful of people, then explores the shifting relationships between them all.

The novel opens in the year 1947. London is still mostly a ruin two years after the bombs have stopped falling. The opening scene is of a woman standing at her window, smoking; she is watching as two men come walking up to the house where she lives. One is young, the other much older and clearly not doing well. Downstairs from Kay is a Christian Scientist healer, who views that physical ailments are nothing more than the burdens that the mind carries, and uses a soothing monolog of prayer and exhoration to give relief to his patients. Kay, in the meantime, wanders the streets of London at night, nattily dressed in men?s clothing, looking -- but looking for what?

Viv and Helen run a matchmaking agency, with some success, after the war. It's not exactly satisfying work, but it does help. Helen is involved with Julia, a writer who is on the verge of making it big, and Viv is entangled with Reggie, a married man, another relationship that is evidently going nowhere.

And finally there is the relationship between Viv and her brother Duncan -- who is none other than the young man that Kay spotted from her window. We discover that Duncan has a very troubled past, and a time in prison during the war, troubles that have left him deeply disturbed and his family in shreds.

The next segment of the novel is set three years earlier, during the last devastating bombing of London.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mona on March 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
i'll keep this short: the story is interesting, the characters are well crafted, the descriptions have depth, but there is no heart to this story. the first thing that struck me is her language - in previous novels she stunned me with her words. this is much more bland. maybe its because of the time period and events that she is portraying, but i miss reading sentences that rocked me like a blow. if you are a fan, it is a must read. if you are new to her, try her first three so you can see her at her best.
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