July 6, 2006
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Historical Fiction

by Sarah Waters

I'm starting The Night Watch , a new novel by Sarah Waters (Fingersmith). It opens in London shortly after WWII, and it's interesting how Waters gets the tone exactly right even though that tone must have been a terrible authorial headache.

It's the late 1940's. Lots (all?) of the central characters are gay, but they don't say that, because the word hasn't been invented. They can't be butch or Nellie, because that wasn't the way people talked. Of course, it's what they want to talk about, and they do talk about it constantly, but even in the arms of their lovers they're elliptical. It's not just a question of the words. A lesser writer would have invented ways to have the characters talk about this stuff without using post-Stonewall terms. But Waters won't settle for that; they're just forming the ideas, they don't just lack the vocabulary. (Twenty years on, they'll be giving us those concepts, but they haven't yet had time to think it all through)

It's impressive detailing.