review: Coventry by Helen Humphreys

16 09 2008

I read about half of Coventry yesterday and finished off the rest today.  It is quite a short book – easy enough to read in one afternoon, and having broken up my reading, I realize now that it might have been better to read through it in one sitting, so as to better stay with the characters as they experience the bombing of Coventry during WWII.

Humphreys’ book focuses on three characters as they experience the bombing of Coventry.  There is Harriet, a woman who lost her husband during WWI and who is covering for a neighbour as a fire watcher at the Cathedral.  There is Jeremy, another fire watcher, who journeys through the evening with Helen, and then there is Jeremy’s mother, Maeve, who the narrative moves to at several points.

I am a fan of Humphreys’ work, particularly The Frozen Thames, which I wrote about recently.  This book was not my favourite of hers, though it was powerful in sections and full of the imagery that I so admire in her books.  There was a great deal of coincidence in the book, which normally I think I would suspect of, but here I didn’t find that distracting.  What took me out of the book was the moments when the narrative seemed to step too far forwards and comment on what had occurred with a knowledge that we have now.  Any contemporary historical novel struggles with that, but some conceal it better than other, I suppose, and I wish that there was more of a veil in that regard in this particular book since there is so much else to recommend.

Reading Humphreys’ book reminded me of my own trip to Coventry and to the Cathedral, and certain elements that she described brought more meaning to what I had seen there.  For example, Harriet, the morning after, returns to the Cathedral and sees a cross that someone has made from two beams and the words “Father Forgive” behind them – just the image preserved in one of my own pictures from the trip.

There is also a description of the new Cathedral, and in particular, the light coming through the glass, which was something that really struck me during the trip.

Humphreys describes a great deal of destruction in Coventry and she also talks about how everything that comes after will be new, that there will have to be a starting again, but that is also tied to memory and the building of a future out of memory.  Somehow in this embracing of past and present and future and of life, Humphreys has captured something about the feelings I had when looking at the “Reconciliation” statute at Coventry Cathedral.

Bronze cast of Josefina de Vasconcellos Reconciliation - Coventry Cathedral

Bronze cast of Josefina de Vasconcellos' "Reconciliation" - Coventry Cathedral




2 responses

19 09 2008

I can not wait to read this book! I so love Helen Humphreys!

20 09 2008

She is definitely one of my favourites now. I enjoyed Afterimage and The Lost Garden when I read them awhile back, but The Frozen Thames really hooked me and Coventry is very good too. I have to try and read her other books now too.

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