Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Night Watch by Sarah Waters

published 2006  section set in 1944  chapter 2








‘Helen!’ Helen heard somebody call above the snarl of traffic on the Marylebone Road. ‘Helen! Over here!’

She turned her head and saw a woman in a blue jeans jacket and dungarees, rather filthy at the knee, with her hair done up in a dusty turban. The woman was smiling, and had lifted her hand. ‘Helen!’ she called again, beginning to laugh.

‘Julia!’ said Helen, at last. She crossed the road. ‘I didn’t recognize you!’

‘I’m not surprised. I must look like a chimney-sweep, do I?’

‘Well, a little.’

Julia got up. She’d been sitting in the sun, on a stump of wall. She had a Gladys Mitchell novel in one hand and a cigarette in the other: now she took a hasty final draw on the cigarette and threw it away.


observations: Another woman in trousers, as featured on the Guardian Books Blog recently.

When CiB featured Night Watch before, there were a couple of interesting comments, which were plainly correct, GOOD comments because they agreed with what I thought. We all loved Sarah Waters’s writing, but found the reverse structure of this book unsatisfactory. One contributor said ‘I felt a bit flat afterwards. It seemed more a series of vignettes than a whole story’, which summed it up well. But the book IS beautifully written, and does a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere. The description of moving through the blitz at night would alone make the whole book worth reading.

Julia in the book writes detective fiction herself: Gladys Mitchell is a real writer who has featured on the blog before – she was a prolific producer of murder stories, at least a book a year, and 1944’s was called My Father Sleeps. Did the BBC props team find that one for the 2011 film of the book?

Links on the blog: Gladys Mitchell here and here, the Second World War from a more European perspective in this book, and a more Irish perspective here. And Noel Streatfeild’s children are living in wartime London and worrying about their clothes.

The picture is from the US Library of Congress collection, and shows an American woman working for the war effort.

8 comments:

  1. Double denim obviously was excusable back then, but the socks do clash a bit with the headgear. I do know my fashion....

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    1. I'm very impressed by your fashion know-how!

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  2. Moira - I don't know if this travels, but during WWII, a lot of US women went to work in factories to keep the 'war machine' going. They were called Rosie the Riverters, and that's exactly the way they dressed. And you know? I'm kind of glad there's a Gladys Mitchell mentioin here. I always like that nod to other others in books...

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    1. We know Rosie the Riveter over here! The image is a very famous one, and I think British women looked much the same, as they went off to do their war work. It's actually an American photo so that really is Rosie. Yes, I felt exactly the same about Gladys Mitchell being there.

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  3. I put off commenting on this because I wanted to make sure I have the book. I do, and my husband has The Little Stranger. I will read this book sometime; the time period is perfect for me. But I am so focused on crime fiction, have a hard time pulling away to other fiction.

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    1. I know, there isn't enough time for all of them is there? I think Sarah Waters is an excellent writer: Affinity is another good one.

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  4. Sarah Waters is a very good writer and I enjoyed this one very much. I liked the backwards narrative and the idea of relationships going off the boil. A very good book

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    1. Yes, I'm full of admiration for her writing and her take on relationships, even if I didn't care for the structure so much.

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