Friday, August 21, 2009

It's all in the details (Books - The Night Watch by Sarah Waters)

After hours of studying yesterday, my reward was to finish up Sarah Waters's novel The Night Watch. As I've mentioned in my other posts here and here, Waters's conceit is to progress backward through time from just after World War II, to earlier and earlier times during the war. She follows her rich characters' pursuit of love in war torn London and, as we go back, the individual strands of their lives seem to come closer and closer to each other. Simultaneously, as their individual secrets are revealed to us, that seems to bring them closer to us as the reader. This is a war-time novel, but its focus is the small details of daily living - procuring a new pair of pyjamas, the feel of one lover's kiss as compared to another, the experience of receiving emergency care through a fog of morphine. The sum of lives are experienced in the details, Waters seems to say, and this book places in special focus the dialogue that can take place between those details experienced in the past and the power they take on when one remembers them in a harder present. The sustained tension Waters achieves through her final sequence, all set on one night of bombing, is pretty extraordinary. It reminds me of the incredible one take shot on Dunkirk beach in the film adaptation of Atonement. And the length does not make me ask when it will be over, on the contrary, I was propelled through that evening, the perspective of the shot switching between the various character's lives, but in a quicker rhythm of alternation than it had previously done, reaching an intensity the book really earned. When I realized I had come to the end, I was surprised, finding that I had read through 200 pages like wildfire.

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