Welcome again to Brooklyn's online book discussion, Brooklyn Book Talk. Various BPL librarians are leading these discussions, and each month features a new title chosen by a different librarian. The titles can range from classics to contemporary fiction, drama and non-fiction. We are hoping that you will find these discussions entertaining and educational.
Today we begin a month of discussion of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. This is also a title on NYC's Summer Reading booklist for adults.
Sarah Waters is an English writer renowned for her detailed and entertaining works of historical fiction. She has been publishing since 1998, with her four novels thus far each winning numerous prizes and accolades. Her first book, Tipping the Velvet, was adapted as a BBC drama in 2002, Fingersmith (2001) was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, and Waters was named one of Granta's twenty Best of Young British Writers in 2003. Her most recent work, The Night Watch, takes place in the years just after and during World War II and marks the first of her books to depart from a Victorian London setting. Waters began writing novels after doing her PhD thesis on lesbian historical fiction and becoming intrigued about the struggles and passions of queer women of past eras, the late 19th century in particular.
The Night Watch centers around four young Londoners -- Kay, Duncan, Helen, and Vivien -- in different periods in 1947, 1944, and 1941. Rather than take up space going through the plot here, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry for the book.
While there is much to talk about in this, Waters's darkest and most complex novel to date, to begin our discussion, I want to bring up the most obviously unusual aspect of the book -- the reverse narration. Since I had read some reviews (and the summary on the book itself!), I was well aware that the story would move backwards and that the end of the first section (taking place in 1947) would be the end point of the story itself. In other words, the last view we have of the characters comes only a third of the way through the book. I had worried about losing the drive to finish, since I already knew what would "happen" to everyone, but the rich plot and Waters's fine writing meant I had no trouble keeping the book open. In fact, I did a fair amount of flipping back and forth while I read.
What did you think? Did you have trouble following the story as it developed (or "undeveloped")? Why do you think Waters chose to use the reverse narrative?
Please read our Discussion Guidelines before participating.