Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Night Watch: What to Read Next

Thanks to all who participated in our discussion of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. If you have more to contribute, please do -- most of the discussion is in the comments to the first post. Next Wednesday, August 1, we will begin a discussion of Grief by Andrew Holleran -- please join us!

Besides Grief, what will you read next? Recommending books can be so difficult because often the only qualities that can be articulated and put into library catalogs and search engines are basic categories like setting and major character attributes. Much of what made The Night Watch unique and compelling, to my mind, are its portrayals of companionship, love, loss, and redemption, but those are not quite searchable qualities (though computerized "reader's advisory" databases such as NoveList and Library of Congress subject headings make an effort).

So here is a very selective list of titles, based on those more concrete aspects, that you might want to check out now that you've read The Night Watch. All but one are contemporary works of historical fiction, and all are either set in 1930s-1940s England or use homosexuality as a theme, or both. Enjoy!

  • First off, if you liked The Night Watch but haven't read any of Waters's previous novels, I recommend you do so (note that these are all set in Victorian England, not the 1940s):
    Tipping the Velvet

  • Women's Barracks by Tereska Torres
    Originally published, to much scandal, in 1950 and reissued with a pulpy cover that plays up the book as a lesbian melodrama, this is the autobiographical tale of female soldiers in the Free French Army in a London barracks during World War II. (Says the author, "there are five main characters. Only one and a half of them can be considered lesbian. I don't see why it's considered a lesbian classic. I find it maddening.") More details can be found in the article "O! What a Steamy War" by John Lichfield (The Independent, June 16, 2007).

  • Helen Carey has written a trilogy of novels about ordinary people in WWII London:
    Lavender Road
    Some Sunny Day
    On a Wing and a Prayer

  • Life Mask by Emma Donoghue
    Suspicions of a scandalous love triangle between two members of the nobility and a commoner erupt in 18th century England.

  • While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
    Issues of class and sexuality play out against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil war and the rise of fascism in Europe.

  • Beyond the Pale by Elana Dykewomon
    The early 20th-century Jewish immigrant experience, from the Pale of Settlement to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as lived by a young and spirited lesbian.

  • Forests of the Night: A Johnny Hawke Novel by David Stuart Davies
    For those who enjoyed the setting of The Night Watch and like mysteries and suspense novels, this is the first book in a projected series about a one-eyed private investigator in Blitz-era London.

  • The Night Watch on LibraryThing
    For hours of fun and perhaps even edification, take a look at LibraryThing!

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