by Méira Cook
  • english-from-canada
  • from-the-prairies
  • literary

From the winner of the 2013 McNally Robinson Book Award comes a novel about a young girl’s first encounter with adult desire, which brings everyday tensions between race, social status, and big city/small town life to a head, with tragic consequences — for readers of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and Atonement by Ian McEwan, with hints of Disgrace by J.M Coetzee.

Nightwatching explores the relationship between a lonely young girl and her nanny, a woman who has worked for the Blackburn family for twelve years. Ruthie Blackburn is a motherless girl, tough and resilient, precocious, awkward and somewhat turbulent. She is eleven years old and has grown up in a small gold-mining city in the Orange Free State (the equivalent of the Canadian prairies) named Welkom. Her father is kindly but aloof and Ruthie spends much of her time with the family maid, Miriam Tsomela. There, in the kitchen of the house on Unicor Street, Miriam and Ruthie quarrel and play cards, listen to their radio serials and navigate their loving, cantankerous relationship.

The novel’s central conflict occurs when Ruthie’s father’s girlfriend visits for the weekend. Unexpectedly, she brings her brother with her and the two guests — who come from the capital city of Bloemfontein — provide a beguiling yet unsettling glimpse of big city life beyond the small town values and constraints of Welkom. Confronted at such close proximity with adult desire, Ruthie is both intrigued and revolted but the weekend has its own freight of mischance and disaster to unload.


Méira Cook, author

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Méira Cook immigrated to Canada in 1991 at the age of 26. An accomplished poet and author, Nightwatching is her third novel. Méira lived many years in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has returned to Winnipeg after residing in British Columbia.


  • The really good books are the ones that stay with you. Long after reading "Nightwatching", I find it still vivid in my memory. Méira Cook has created three wonderfully memorable characters... bound together by love, circumstance, and place, then rendered apart by the tragedy that was South Africa during the Apartheid era. An intimate and emotionally intense book that resonates far beyond its particular time and place. - Lewis DeSoto, author of The Restoration Artist and A Blade of Grass
  • “Nightwatching" is an impressive achievement for its prolonged atmosphere of unease, its sustained tension.” - Winnipeg Free Press Link to review


  • Winner, 2016 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Cooke International



rights sold: English (Canada, HarperCollins Canada)

rights available: World

Additional Information

number of pages: 272

publication date: 05/19/2015

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book