Thursday, October 9, 2008

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

On the evening of November 14, 1940, Harriet stands on the roof of the cathedral in the British town of Coventry and marvels at the magnificence of frost glittering beneath a full moon. But it is a bomber's moon. The Germans are coming to unleash destruction. For Harriet, Jeremy, the young man who shares her duties as a firewatcher, and his free-spirited mother, Maeve, this single night will resonate for the rest of their lives.

In a story of breathtaking beauty, with the wondrous poetic style that has earned her international acclaim, Helen Humphreys recreates the terror of the infamous Second World War bombing raid on Coventry. As Harriet and Jeremy make their way through the burning city in search of Maeve, their trek becomes a journey of fear and awe as they witness butter from the dairy flowing down the streets in a burning stream and landmines on parachutes swimming like jellyfish out of the darkness. Cold dread brings to life both a grief and a love that Harriet thought she had put behind her forever.

Drawing on actual events of that horrific night in 1940, Coventry is an astounding work, at once tense and lyrical, shocking and exquisite. Touching on themes of love, loss, loneliness and remembrance, Humphreys has crafted a story that will seize readers' hearts and imaginations.
This little book packs a bit of a punch. I am a big fan of books set during the World Wars, so I am always on the look out for new ones. This new novel by Helen Humphreys covers a little bit of the First World War, but it is mostly centred around one evening during World War Two. Coventry is the setting of this book. It is where all the action in the novel takes place. This one night in history will affect three people for the rest of their lives.

Harriet is the central character. She has lived a rough life. She married young, when she was only 18, and her husband signed up to fight during the First World War. He never came home. This is just one of many bitter disappointments that Harriet has had to put up with in her life. She is always waiting for someone to come back to her and it seems that they never make their way back. Then, it is 1940 and Harriet has been thrust into firewatch duty because the older gentleman that lives in her flat has fallen and hurt himself. It is because of this that she finds herself a part of the devastation. Fires are spreading, bombs are exploding, buildings are destroyed, and bodies litter the streets. It is a night that Harriet will not soon forget.

Joining her on this evening is a young boy named Jeremy. He is on firewatch duty on this tragic night at the same chapel that Harriet is set to watch. He becomes young and frightened and turns to Harriet for comfort. She feels responsible for the young man and becomes determined to get both herself and him home before the night is over. All he wants is to get home to his mother and make sure that she is alright. Harriet is alone in the world, but she still feels a compulsion to get home. This is their night. They see things that will never leave them during a night that will be forever marked as a horrific night in European history.

The last character part of this night is Jeremy's mother, Maeve. She is a single-mother and an artist hiding in a cellar while her son is trying to get back to her. Her life has not been perfect, but she has always managed to see the bright-side of things. Tonight, all she is concerned with is her sons' safety. She just needs to know that he is okay and has made it through the night unharmed. Harriet and Jeremy will become separated during the night, and then Maeve's and Harriet's stories will intertwine. They are both two women desperate to know the fate of a young man while bombs are exploding in the street. It is a tense and tragic night.

In just a short amount of pages, Humphreys manages to bring this night in history home to readers who were not there to experience it. She draws on real events from that night to make it all seem real. This book captures many emotions for such a small book. I found myself caught up in the story, and while it is not the best book on the subject I have ever read, I read it in one sitting. I recommend it!

My thanks to Harper Collins for sending me this book!

(This book also counts towards The 2nd Canadian Challenge, Eh?)


  1. Nice review! There's been quite a few novels on WWII recently and I'm glad to see this change in the trends. I'll be on the lookout for this one.

  2. I remember hearing about this a few months ago and straight away added it to my TBR list! I am looking forward to reading it at some point!

  3. Wonderful review! This one is on my TBR. I enjoyed 'The Lost Garden', but this sounds even more promising.