Author: Waters, Sarah (Narrated by Juanita McMahon)
Title: The Night Watch (Audio-Unabridged)
Genre: Historical Fiction Publication Date: 2006
Number of pages: 13 CD Disks
Geographical Setting: London, England
Time period: World War II.
Plot Summary: In this lyrical and structurally complex story, the author describes the atmosphere of the World War II-era London through the experiences of four main characters-Viv, Kay, Helen, and Duncan-and a full set of secondary characters. As the narrative of the book moves backwards from 1947 to 1941, Waters very slowly reveals the details of her characters and their eventual connections through love, hardship and tragedy. As most of Waters’ books, the story deals with homosexuality and love between women, but it also casts light on the issues of suicide, pacifism, and class and gender roles during that time period. The story does a fine job at showing the physical devastation of the war and the psychological scars caused by betrayal, longing, loss and regret, still the books feels underwhelming when compared to other novels by Sarah Waters. The backward construction is clever but it also rids the plot of any mystery and greatly slows down the pacing, while the multiplicity of characters decreases their complexity and emotional resonance. These construction flaws are only underscored by Juanita McMahon’s audio delivery. The narrator tries to differentiate between multiple characters by using different tones and accents but, with a mostly androgynous set of characters, it does not quite work. Also, poor editing and lack of significant pauses make it difficult to keep track of transitions between different people, places and times in the story. Although I am a great proponent of audio books, I feel that this book would be better experienced through reading.
Subject Headings: World War II, 1939-1945 England-London-Fiction; London Bombardment-World War II; Historical Fiction; Psychological Fiction; War Stories; Relationships; Gay and Lesbian Relationships.
Appeal: character-driven, intricately-plotted, relaxed-paced, atmospheric, moody, bleak, compelling, descriptive, lyrical, dark, psychological, uneasy, multiple points of view and plot lines, complex, episodic, layered, historical frame.
3 Appeal Terms that Best Describe this Book: complex, atmospheric, character-driven.
3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
1) World War II London Blitz Diary (A Woman’s Revelations Enduring War and Marriage) by Ruby Alice Side-Thompson: An unfiltered account of the destruction and the quality of life during the London Blitz. Also, it is a compelling and dark story of an unhappy marriage, social conventions, and personal loss.
2) London at War, 1939-1945 by Phillip Ziegler: A story about a diverse group of Londoners–men, women, and children, rich and poor, heroes and cowards– living through the London Blitz. Through the use of a rich collection of interviews, diaries, books and newspapers, the author creates a complex and compelling portrait of Londoners during the World War II.
3) Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Man and Women In World War Two by Allan Berube: A comprehensive history of gays’ and lesbians’ involvement in the war, including information on the work opportunities, the relationships, the gender and race relations, and on the impact of the anti-gay laws.
3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
1) The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: A lyrical and complex story about a group of women trying to survive during the first century’s siege of Masada. Similarly to The Night Watch, this novel is rich in historical details, full of diverse characters, layered plot elements, and psychological drama.
2) Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian: A small group of people is fleeing westwards through Europe devastated by World War II. The story is historic in setting, lyrical in language, and addresses similar subject of love and physical and psychological destruction of war.
3) The End of the Affair by Graham Green: Tells a story of an affair during the London Blitz, and the mystery behind the woman’s decision to end the affair. Aside of the similarities in time and setting, the story is also character-driven and deals with relationships and the psychology of love and loss.
Tags: atmospheric, bleak, character driven, compelling, complex, dark, descriptive, episodic, historical frame., intricately plotted, layered, lyrical, moody, multiple points of view and plot lines, psychological, relaxed-paced, uneasy