It is a hot, lonely summer in the Orange Free State of South Africa, and young Ruthie Blackburn finds herself at odds with everyone around her. She squirms under the watchful eye of her nanny and bristles at Sip, the gardener’s son, who follows her everywhere and is her only friend. But mostly she misses her distracted widower father, who is more absent each day and the subject of neighbourhood gossip.
Ruthie runs reckless through the bleary, dull days, often venturing alone into the dark streets at night, listening to and spying on things she does not understand. The monotony is interrupted by the arrival of two guests from the big city, the vivacious Miss Lena and her brother, Syl. The events of one weekend will change everything for Ruthie and lead to an unforeseeable tragedy. Set against the shifting political tensions of the late 1970s and written in unsparing, evocative language, Nightwatching powerfully captures the sudden end of innocence.