Coventry by Helen Humphreys

coventry

In this slim and beautifully written volume, Canadian Helen Humphreys tackles the lives of three people during the evening of the worst fire-bombing of Britain in the Second World War. Over the course of two nights, in November of 1940, the industrial city of Coventry was reduced to rubble. Its massive Gothic Cathedral became and remains a monument to both the heroism of the citizens of the city and a memorial to the dead.

We first meet Harriet, as a young bride in 1914, as she says goodbye to her husband who is boarding the troop train to France. Lost and alone, in a city she does not know, Harriet stumbles upon Maeve, a young artist sketching the spire of the church. The two women, full of life and optimism spend a lovely afternoon together though they don’t meet again until the fateful night of the bombing. The first war and the intervening years have changed them both.

The third character is Maeve’s son , Jeremy, a slight young man who has volunteered to be a firewatcher in the city, since his colour blindness has prevented him from active service. An accident sends Harriet up to the Cathedral roof where she meets Jeremy and our story unfolds.

Humphreys has done a remarkable job of capturing the terror of the night as well as moments of the surreal with absolute clarity. Slight observations about human behaviour and the isolation of sadness assure the novel with you after the final page is turned.

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