Saturday, June 12, 2010

Book Review: The Night Watch

I'm almost at the point where I don't want to open a book that has been shortlisted for the Man Booker.... its not that I only want to read light-hearted stories, or that I dont want to be challenged, or have my comfort zone upended, its just that lately I've been reading to fill spaces in my life and short-listed books take up brain power I just dont have to spare.  I should start another stack and put them all there.....for later.

Having got that off my chest.....The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (Virago 2006) took me on a journey backwards in London from 1947 to 1941.  Starting at the end of the story and going back to fill in the blanks provided some unexpected twists.  This is a story of lives unravelled by the war, the strands knotted together in sad loops where no-one has a happy ending.  Four women are linked together - Kay, Helen and Julia in a series of shortlived and ultimately unsatisfactory relationships with eachother, and Viv whose life is lived in the shadow of someone else's marriage. I found the women easy to picture because they have been seen in the background of so many wartime movies: working the jobs that men will return to reclaim, wearing clothes salvaged and darned to make them last. The backdrop of London bombings is told so well that I expected plaster dust to rise from the pages as I turned them.

Sexuality runs through the book as a longing never allowed to be satisfied for too long.  I found myself waiting for the next disaster, the next leave-taking, the next mis-interpreted glance.  Uncovering the secret of the ring came too late in the story to make me care.  Its not a book I enjoyed, but I did read it until the end.

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