This book review was supplied by Dan Crow

This is the first book I have ever read that I wanted to start again as soon as I finished it. That is not to say it is the best book ever written or that everyone will feel this way. Some books seem to resonate well with the reader’s mood. I have been in the habit of reading half a book and then giving up on it when it fails to deliver what I am looking for. I kept expecting The Night Watch to do just this: either to get monotonous or lose the consistency of its tone. It did neither of these. It is set in the 1940s and follows the interconnected lives of about 4 characters. It is written backwards, starting in 1947 and finishing a few years earlier, and this nearly put me off the book when I was buying it. I have come to dislike clever narrative devices that try to cover a lack of momentum in the plot or writing style. This book, however, justifies the device by giving such tension to the characters that the reader is dying to find out what happened in the past to cause it all.

The characterisation is what I look for most in a book. I feel that a warm well written character has no need for a clever plot as such – it is more like spending time with an old friend. Sarah Waters was able to write her characters so convincingly that the reader could imagine having a conversation with them. They are subtle and react to circumstances with an almost uncanny human touch – hard to believe they are fictional at all.

One important theme in the book is the reality of living an almost secret life. Several of the characters are in same sex relationships in a time when it was not accepted or talked about. What I liked particularly, however, was that this theme was part of the characterisation and didn’t dominate the book. There are no caricatures and no moralising – the characters are just presented as they are.

There is a particular part of the book which made my blood run cold in which one of the characters lives is threatened. I won’t spoil it but I can’t remember being affected by a book so much in a long time – it made me gasp a bit! The skill the author shares with a select few is the ability to tell the story and melt into the background. It is easy to forget you are reading a book at all.