Jun. 22nd, 2015

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The Night Watch, Sarah Waters. Stories of several intertwined people. starting in post-war London and going backwards. In 1947 they're adjusting to post-war life. Someone remarks on how during the war, everybody was so kind and helpful to each other, just as in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, the Rebecca Solnit book I read recently. As the book moves backwards in time various things are revealed. Each of the characters has their own secrets and I liked seeing how relationships changed – had changed – in ways I didn't expect. There were also great descriptions of wartime life – ambulance drivers, a huge fire.

I liked it a lot, though at the end I was frustrated, hoping it would circle back to 1947 and we'd see what became of the characters, if changes hinted at the end of the first section came to pass. I'm still thinking about all the characters, comparing now and then, and re-read the earlier chapters to glean hints. I like feeling this engaged by a book.

Spoilers here!
The scene where Kay is certain that Helen has been killed by a bomb, and rushes to the scene, is very exciting and well written - the way Mickie helps her, the description of the fire and the firefighters. But don't we know, the whole time, that she's going to find that Helen is perfectly fine - because she's with Julia? So it's kind of an anticlimax.

One thing that was really wrong was the suicide scene. It didn't work because we hadn't seen Alec before this, hadn't seen anything of his and Duncan's relationship. Had he always been impulsive, always been able to convince Duncan to go along with his harebrained schemes? And beyond that, it just didn't feel believable. "I've been called up - what am I going to do? I know, I'll kill myself - you too - and that will convince them that war is wrong!" "I say, that's a wizard idea!"

He's portrayed as an utterly passive character. After Fraser re-enters his life, we see him putting on Brylcream and leaving his shirt open, the way Fraser does. He moved in with Mr Mundy and is having some kind of sexual relationship - that he doesn't like - with him. So it's possible that his relationship with Alec was the same, and going along with the suicide idea is in character, but it wasn't written convincingly.

It's possible I missed it in the earlier chapters but I didn't quite understand what happened after Alec made the cut. What did Duncan do - get hysterial? make an attempt that failed? lose his nerve entirely? And because he'd signed the note he was able to be prosecuted for attempting suicide? I'm skimming through it again to find out.

Other reviewers complain about something else that I think she got absolutely right: how Viv and Reggie were still together in 1947 despite how he abandoned her at the hospital after the abortion. Why is she still with this cad? Because that's exactly what people do, make excuses and stay with someone even though they do awful things. Maybe she likes the excitement, maybe she likes having the freedom she wouldn't have in a full time relationship, maybe she really is in love with him. Now in 1947, maybe seeing Kay and remembering why she gave her the ring is going to galvanize her to end it. She does say to Fraser "...what she'd done for me, you see, made me think of something else, that I didn't want to remember." and she feels like she could do anything.



Now I'm reading Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, by Jonathan Gould. Yes, I'm that person who "hates" the Beatles. Well, I don't exactly hate them. I like some of their songs, but I've heard them all way way way too many times. If I could not hear them for 20 years or so they might sound fresh again. In fact occasionally I hear one I haven't heard in a long time and like it - that happened last week with "Hey Bulldog". Mainly I hate how people, especially those my age, think they're the be all and end all of popular music. It's mostly that there's a lot of music I like much more. Though I'll admit, there are a lot of their songs I do hate. Mostly ones by Paul.

So they came along when I was 8 or 9 and I instantly loved them and along with my friends obsessively listened to their records and argued over which was the cutest. But then I discovered the Rolling Stones and the Beatles went into the big pile of "other stuff I like". By that time my mom was saying how cute they were, like choirboys, and that kind of put the kibosh on them.

It's been interesting, as an adult, to look back on that time and learn about adult stuff that was going on. I knew Elvis had caused a ruckus but he was old hat by the time I was aware of music.

This book has a lot of great background about music and social stuff in the culture and how the Beatles picked up on it. All this time I thought John was the working class one - he fooled me with that album title - that he was illegitimate and grew up in a slum. Come to find he was the most middle class.

May 2016

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