Sarah Waters


This issue features a “micro-interview” with Sarah Waters, conducted by Peter Terzian. Waters is a British writer who has written five historical novels. Tipping the Velvet (1998), Affinity (1999), and Fingersmith (2002) loosely form a trilogy in which Waters imagines a lesbian subculture in Victorian London, located in, respectively, a music hall, spiritualists’ circles, and the den of petty thieves. Each features a lesbian heroine coming to terms with her identity, often while fending off larger-than-life Dickensian villains and tricksters. The Night Watch (2005) is set in the cheerless British capital during and after the Blitz, and follows the unhappy romantic lives of four women (including a lesbian love triangle) and a gay man. Her new novel, The Little Stranger, is a return to the Gothic realm of her earliest books. Her first to include no lesbian characters, it takes place at a crumbling rural mansion in the years after the war. As the Ayres family struggles to stay afloat financially and emotionally, unidentified supernatural forces begin to drive them to the brink of sanity.


THE BELIEVER: The characters in your books often do horrible things to each other. Do you have a dark view of human nature?

SARAH WATERS: I don’t know why this happens. I always think, “This time I’m going to write a light romantic comedy.” I’m already saying that about the next book, and God knows how that will turn out. I suppose it’s more interesting to write about people who are trapped and frustrated and disappointed. It’s interesting to me that The Night Watch is the least Gothic of all the books, even though it has Gothic hints: blacked-out London, hollow streets. In that novel, the people aren’t pantomime villains; they’re not locking each other in asylums. They’re hurting each other in very mundane human ways.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Peter Terzian is the editor of the essay anthology Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives. He writes a blog about songs called Earworms.

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