Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Friday, 21 January 2011

Love, lust and loss during World War II - The Night Watch

Helen Giniver runs a dating agency round the back of London's Bond Street station. Viv Pearce is her colleague, who takes care of the admin. Helen lives in Streatham with Julia Standing, a well-known author. She is besotted with Julia and prone to irrational fits of jealousy over what looks like a relationship brewing with another woman -- not without reason if you follow the book's backward drifting timeline from 1947 to 1944 when Helen bumps into Julia for the first time, having heard about her from her then lover, Kay Langrish, Julia's ex.

Kay now lives in the attic flat of her neighbour and landlord Mr Leonard, a Christian Science healer in Lavendar Hill. She spends her time watching various disabled people on their way in and out of consultations with Mr Leonard or just wandering about the streets, looking mannish and just generally looking, though back in 1944 when she was co-habiting with Helen, she was an active and dashing member of the ambulance service, rescuing victims of the blitz or dealing with their remains.

Viv's guilty secret is Reggie, 36 and married. Viv is single and lives at home with her widowed father. Her younger brother, Duncan lives with Uncle Horace -- not his real uncle but none other than Mr Mundy, the prison warder who befriended him when he did a four-year stretch at Wormwood Scrubs for something we don't discover until the third section of the novel in 1941 in a poignantly described episode. Kay observes them as they visit Mr Leonard regularly for Uncle Horace's bad leg to be healed. Duncan works in a candle factory doing menial work and here it is that his old cellmate in the Scrubs, Robert Fraser, now a journalist, re-discovers him. Viv recognises Kay from a harrowing incident during the war, skilfully related, when Kay - a stranger to her - helped her out of a serious predicament in an act of human kindness that could have cost Kay her job.

Having set out her stall, Sarah Waters in The Night Watch (Virago, 2006), works backwards to unravel the stories that connect her main characters and explain how they got where they are in the first place. The more I read, the more I was sucked into their past lives, the better to understand how Viv came to have an affair with Reggie and the part Kay played in saving her life. Ironically, neither Viv nor her boss, Helen seem to be aware that their lives are linked by the various people they know. Duncan's sad and poignant past is revealed, uncovering aspects of life that were illegal or taboo in the 1940s and enabling us to compare the differences in attitudes and tolerance levels between those times and today.

The human condition is laid bare in those years of rationing and deprivation, where nightly enemy bombing raids were part of the normal way of life and fear was a constant bedfellow; where generosity of spirit compelled people to hold out the hand of friendship to friends and strangers alike. Waters' cast embraces a spread of 'characters' in the absolute sense of the word, superbly created and developed with their own distinctive traits and foibles.

This is a beautifully crafted piece of work, displaying a wealth of meticulous research and attention to detail that brings the story to life in a three-dimensional form. The bombing raids are so realistic that you can see and hear the planes droning overhead dropping their insidious load, imagine the searchlights scanning the night sky and smell the acrid smoke of the fires; you can imagine the shattering of people's lives and homes, the abject horror of the blitz and how it destroyed their world.

The Night Watch is a revealing historical document and story of love, lust, loss and change. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize and you can read an extract on Sarah's website at http://www.sarahwaters.com/  An adaptation by Paula Milne will be shown on BBC-2 this Spring. 


sophie norris said...

are there any more book from sarah waters? and is it available on a kindle?

Diane Paul said...

Not sure if you mean on my blog or generally. I love Sarah's books - she has written five and you can find details on her website: www.sarahwaters.com
They are all available on Kindle.
I have also reviewed The Little Stranger here on 4.1.11
The other three are Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith.