The Babu, who spent far too much time recently sharing a plane with ten assorted screaming infants (none of them his property), wishes he could get Sarah Waters to tell them bedtime stories:
She then recounts the story of the couple who tempt fate by wishing on a mummified monkey’s paw. First they wish for £200 – this comes in the form of compensation after their son dies a horrible death, mangled by factory machinery. “Then,” says Waters, “the woman wishes for her son to be returned to them and one night they’re woken by this terrible sound of someone, or something, dragging themselves up the garden path…”
But where I shudder, she shrieks with delight.
I would guess that the germ from which The Night Watch originally sprang was Radclyffe Hall’s short story “Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself”. Published in the early 1930s, it tells the tale of a mannish woman who has no interest in marrying or romance, who thrives during the First World War as the leader of an ambulance corps on the Western Front, but afterwards finds herself more of a misfit than ever. Kay, the first character encountered in the new novel, was also an ambulance woman, on the Pimlico night watch during the Second World War. Two years into peace, she is living in a rickety house in Lavender Hill, surrounded by bombsites. Dressed in a man’s shirt and tailored slacks, she wanders the streets in a desolate way; she is often mistaken for a “good-looking youth”, and she occasionally buys a drink for a pretty girl.
Rather than fearing being pigeonholed as a gay writer – as though a gay writer cannot speak to all of humankind – Waters simply makes lesbians the centre of the world. An ex-academic who knows that writers, however committed, must also be voracious readers, she writes in the feminist tradition that draws on both male and female writers for inspiration.