four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
By: 
Sarah Waters
user_rating: 
0

A-TheNightWatchIn postwar London in 1947, four people reel from the aftereffects of battle. Kay, an ambulance driver during the war, watches from her apartment as a young man and his "uncle" pay weekly visits to the Christian Science healer upstairs. Helen, who works at a matchmaking service, thinks her girlfriend, Julia, a mystery novelist, spends too much time with a female radio personality. Viv, Helen’s coworker at the dating agency, carries on an affair with a married veteran. And Duncan, Viv’s brother? He’s the young man Kay views through her window each week. As the book moves backward in time through the war, the intimate connections between these four characters make The Night Watch less a novel of bombs and heroism than a glimpse into lives brought together and torn asunder by war.
Riverhead. 464 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 159448905X

Detroit Free Press 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Waters is almost Dickensian in her wealth of description and depth of character. The well-stuffed plot includes vivid scenes on a train packed with troops, in a government office full of upper-class girls doing their bit as typists, in a prison cell at night with bombers overhead, in a shattered house on a sunny afternoon and along the blacked-out, bombed-out streets of East London listening for the air raid sirens." Susan Hall-Balduf

Guardian (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Night Watch demands sticking power and at least two readings, but this finely nuanced, wise, and generous novel more than repays such attention. Waters is an author to cherish, and this is probably her finest achievement yet." Justine Jordan

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Granted, the number of World War II historical novels could probably circle the moon, but Waters freshens the genre by shining a spotlight on those often overlooked by history buffs: gay men, lesbians, and conscientious objectors." Chelsea Cain

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"If it all sounds like a soap opera, don’t be misled." Mary J. Elkins

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[M]ost of the freedoms the women enjoy—of sexual intrigue, of risk-taking physical work—stem from exceptions created by the war. Waters, in showing us those freedoms, locks onto her characters’ very essence." Michael Upchurch

Pittsburgh Trib-Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"We encounter the consequences of actions and behavior before we learn their origins. This makes the reader work harder, to the extent of having to flip back through earlier pages, but rewards the effort in greater understanding." Roger K. Miller

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The backwards structure of The Night Watch is its most intriguing characteristic, and also its Achilles’ heel. It creates its own sort of reverse suspense, emphasizing the question of why rather than what happens and making us grow more knowledgeable as the characters become more ignorant." Tracy Chevalier

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"For all the vigor and intensity of its prose, The Night Watch leaves us with the sense that both the reader’s experience and the characters’ lives have been manipulated to suit the author’s design." Tess Taylor

Critical Summary

Shaking off the reductive expectations of her self-described "lesbian Victorian romp[s]," Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, Sarah Waters proves she’s no one-trick pony with The Night Watch. This doesn’t come as a surprise to the critical colloquy, which paints Waters as a vigorous writer whose books wear their tireless research elegantly. The Oregonian goes so far to call The Night Watch "a writer’s field guide to creating rich characters in fiction." Critics even applaud her transition to a third-person narrator. The only wobble is Waters’ decision to tell the story in reverse. For a few critics the risky narrative device robs the book of its suspense, but in the final tally most writers agree that the view from the other end of the telescope is "an elegant and profound device" (Guardian).