Friday, June 20, 2008

THE NIGHT WATCH by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is not--or at least, not yet--a writer of the first rank. She's with Iris Murdoch in the second drawer from the top. The Night Watch is merely good; it isn't a great novel, and in fact it seems a bit less than the sum of its parts. The novel's reverse chronology isn't really justified by the story and appears to be a rather obvious and artificial gimmick, a means of creating mysteries which the narrative wouldn't otherwise contain, a blatant reader-manipulation device. And in addition to all that, the device doesn't really work: the novel's eventual revelations all struck me as rather disappointing and anticlimactic. I also found myself wondering, as I read this relatively tame and P.C. Waters performance, about the niche Waters fills in the BritLit cathedral. Is she British fiction's 'acceptable' literary lesbian, less disturbing and transgressive than writers sold exclusively at Gay's The Word, more palatable to mainstream (read 'straight') readers who find even Jeannette Winterson a little too dykey? Is Sarah Waters Brit Lit's answer to The L Word, gentrifying lesbian fiction for a bourgeois audience? As the bisexual and very transgressive car crash afficionado Vaughan remarks in David Cronenberg's film Crash, "A case could be made..."

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