I’d like to recommend: The Night Watch.

night_watchI hold my hand up and admit that this was my first Sarah Walters novel.  I’d enjoyed the tv adaptations of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, but somehow, never got round to following them up on paper.  So when my good friends Ruth and Annie gifted me this novel for my birthday, just as my classes were finishing, I didn’t add it to my TBR shelf, I put it ready to start once my decks were cleared.

What a gift it was.  Beautifully written, intriguing characters, and a neat piece of plotting.  The story opens in London, in the summer of 1947.  The weather is hot, many of the buildings are still war damaged, and people are struggling to fit into their peace-time roles.

Just as I was beginning to grasp who the central characters were, and how they fitted together, that segment of the story closed.  The new segment jumped me back to London in 1944, and that terrible destruction of properties, and lives.  Again, no backstory, instead the four lives are revealed by their actions and relationships.

The third time slip was to London in 1941.  Here several of the characters intersect for the first time.

The events that happen in this section are going to lead each of them to become the person I met when I opened the first page of the novel.  Had Walter’s written this story chronologically I wouldn’t have guessed the outcome, I might even have objected to some of the connections.  But experienced in rewind, the eventual outcome for each choice feels inevitable.

That’s worth thinking about.  Truth, we are often warned, is stranger than fiction.  In other words, the improbable can happen in real life with surprising frequency, and those tales make some fascinating pieces of journalism.  But in the world of stories readers require cause and the effect. That’s what the backstory provided.

So the reverse chronology made me work.  As the narrator uncovered each layer of the experiences that formed the people I met in the first part of the novel, I rounded out my understanding of them.

I’ve seen this reverse telling before.  I wonder if Walters read The Long View, by Elizabeth Jane Howard?  I’d like to think she did.

night watch

6 thoughts on “I’d like to recommend: The Night Watch.

  1. Great! So glad you liked it Cath. Ever since you mentioned enjoying the Elizabeth Jane Howard novel, I suspected you might.

    I found the reverse chronology added considerable veracity to the characters and the story. And it avoided any complacency about them. As you say, just as you feel you’ve got to know them, another layer is introduced and you discover more about their characters and motivations.

    I was also rather comforted by it. However bad the wartime experiences were, I knew they would survive. In a conventional, linear chronology, that may have been a spoiler but within this format, I found it soothing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, on every point. As you say, there was comfort in knowing that the main characters would survive the horror of the bombings, and it shifted my focus entirely on the actions and their responses.

      It felt as if I’d been placed in the position of a psychologist, able to examine each event as it unfolded, and then draw my own conclusions. I really liked the lack of direct explanation.

      No doubt this reveals the extent of my nosiness – the less said about that the better.


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