Monday, July 16, 2007

The Night Watch

Sarah Waters' book 'The Night Watch' is one you find in the gay/lesbian section of bookshops, though in the Adelaide bookshop where I bought it it was also available under general fiction. It had been shortlisted for both the Man Booker and the Orange Prizes.

It's set in London in the 1940s (NB in Aussie bookshops it's very hard to find books by Aussie writers) involving about half a dozen characters of whom three are lesbian, one might be gay but actually he was in prison for another reason, one is definitely gay and a heterosexual guy. The strange thing is that the book starts in about 1947 where it goes on for a long time, and it keeps referring to the characters' histories which the reader does not know about. Then it jumps back to 1943, with much of the history becoming clearer, except for one character, and his is only clarified as the book jumps back yet a bit further into 1941. If it had been written in sequence, it might not have been as good and gripping!

The book describes very clearly the situation in London during and after the war, the difficulties people faced in terms of getting food, clothing, having affairs, dealing with the consequences of affairs. Funny it is not particularly, apart from the odd little detail here or there. The dialogues, including the internal ones, are wonderful and very London, of the time - who says 'you're tight', or 'tipsy' nowadays?

So what makes it a gay book? Simply that most of the characters are gay? I wonder if in a gay bookshop books with non-gay characters are filed in the 'heterosexual' shelves? It seems Ms Waters is quite a bestselling author in that field.

Actually, it's a great read, and it really takes you back into that period in London (though some of us have never been there...).