Monday, November 12, 2012

Begining at the end

The most notable thing about The Night Watch, a 2006 novel by Sarah Waters, is the way the plot moves back in time, starting in 1947 postwar London, then moving back to 1944 and finally to 1941. This device wouldn't work in most novels, which we want to start at the beginning of the story and work toward the end, but it works here, where the most dramatic events have already happened when the story opens.

The plot follows the stories of several intersecting characters whose lives are relatively settled in 1947, but there are suggestions of past trauma. Rather than using flashbacks, as most novelists would do, Waters just moves the story backward until we learn the answers to the key questions. How did Vivian get entangled in a deadend romance with Reggie, a married man? Why did her brother Duncan, a seemingly harmless young man, serve a prison sentence? How did Kay, Helen and Julia get involved in a lesbian love triangle?

There are some novels that you finish, then want to start reading again at the beginning to see what you missed. The Night Watch is one of them.

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