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Night Watch

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2024

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780349727783

Price: £22

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‘Breathtaking in both its scope and intensity’ TAYARI JONES

‘Shatteringly particular and audaciously universal’ ALICE RANDALL

A mesmerising story about a mother and daughter seeking refuge in a mental asylum in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War.

In 1874, in the wake of the war, trauma haunts civilians and veterans, renegades and wanderers, freedmen and runaways. Twelve-year-old ConaLee and her mother, Eliza, who hasn’t spoken in more than a year, arrive at the Trans-Allegh­eny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia, delivered to the hospital’s entrance by a war vet­eran who has forced himself into their lives. There, far from family, a beloved neighbour, and the mountain home they knew, they try to reclaim their lives.

The twin horrors of war and race rise to the surface as we learn their history: their flight to the highest mountain ridges of western Virginia; the disappearance of ConaLee’s father, who left for the war and never returned. Meanwhile in the asylum, they begin to find a new path. ConaLee pretends to be her mother’s maid; Eliza responds slowly to treatment. They get swept up in the life of the facility – the mystery behind the man they call the Night Watch; the child called Weed; the fearsome woman who runs the kitchen; the remarkable doctor at the head of the institution.

Epic, enthralling and meticulously crafted, Night Watch is a brilliant portrait of family endurance against all odds and a stunning chronicle of surviving war and its aftermath.


Beautiful, mournful... Carefully and engrossingly crafted... The good suffer equally with the bad. Phillips's artistic conscience won't let her flinch from this truth, but her generous heart won't let it be the last word. She leaves readers with a rueful yet doggedly hopeful maxim that could easily serve as an epigraph for Night Watch as a whole: 'Endurance was strength'
Washington Post
A profound meditation on identity, empathy, sanity, daughter-love, nature, and the Civil War, Night Watch will leave you shook and sustained. This novel delivers fictional reckoning that makes way for the potential of real-world reconciliation by delivering complex and necessary testimony and confession. Weaving photographs and fragments of non-fiction prose into an intimate family story, Night Watch is at once shatteringly particular and audaciously universal. Jayne Anne Phillips arrives at the crowning achievement of an extraordinary career
Alice Randall, author of BLACK BOTTOM SAINTS
Expect coincidences and convolutions . . . Phillips pulls them off with gorgeous prose, attention to detail, and masterful characters. Haunting storytelling and a refreshing look at history
Phillips's depiction of a ravaged world in which so many have lost their way or had it stolen from them, both physically and mentally, feels true to the profoundly destabilising nature of her subject...With this excellent novel, Phillips has brought a little more of this foundational American episode into the light
It's hard to know what to praise first - Jayne Anne Phillips' signature beautiful sentences, the compelling scenes of battle and their ravaged aftermath, the fascinating portrayal of Dr Thomas Story Kirkbride's 'moral treatment' method for the mentally ill, or the vivid depiction of the people and land of West Virginia in the 1860s and 70s. Night Watch takes a highly deserved place among important novels about war and its legacy
Alice Elliot Dark, author of FELLOWSHIP POINT
A superb meditation on broken families in post-Civil War West Virginia . . . The bruised and turbulent postbellum era comes alive in Phillips's page-turning affair
Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
Tracing an arc from catastrophic damage and loss to recovery through the Civil War and its aftermath, Phillips marries a timeless emotional quality and utterly contemporary sensibility to create a satisfying work in her first novel in a decade . . . Night Watch is escapist in the best sense of the word, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the experience of a distant era and identify deeply with the struggles of the people who lived through it
There is a luminous beauty in Phillips's prose. Whether it is the dark interiors of war - which have become her forte - or the equally complex and fraught lives of so-called 'ordinary' people, Phillips brings these theaters of peace and loss, death and transcendence together with a remarkable alchemy
Ken Burns, filmmaker
Jayne Anne Phillips is a brilliant artist working at the height of her powers. Word by word, and line by line, there is no one better. This novel lives where a startling imagination meets scrupulous research: Night Watch is a tour de force - breathtaking in both its scope and intensity
Tayari Jones, author of AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE
Jayne Anne Phillips is a wonderfully gifted storyteller, and few contemporary writers can match the lyricism of her prose, but in this marvelous new novel, largely set in a factual nineteenth-century asylum, she achieves even more: history and imagination merge, and she gives the past a living pulse
Ron Rash, author of THE CARETAKER
Vivid . . . Phillips excels in crafting original takes on human circumstances, like mother-daughter relationships and women's vulnerabilities and resilience. Her setting here is equally striking: the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in rural West Virginia . . . The historical milieu comes alive in all its facets as Phillips evokes the enduring bonds of both blood and chosen families
A searing portrait of the cruelties of race, the insanity of war, and the tragedy of its aftermath
A story of trauma and restoration in the aftermath of the Civil War... Goodness is a real thing in this novel - a verifiable force - and the question posed is whether we still have the sensitivity to discern it
Wall Street Journal
A lovely piece of work . . . Night Watch is another of Jayne Anne Phillips's intimate revelatory creations
Dorothy Allison, author of BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA
Intricately plotted... As Phillips shifts between the two periods and among her various characters' perspectives [...] she examines ideas about identity, rebirth, and lingering trauma
New Yorker, Books of the Year