During World War II, the city of Coventry was bombed during a long, terrible night of destruction. Coventry, a novel by Helen Humphreys, takes us through that night through the eyes of Harriet, a war widow from World War I and Maeve a single mother of a nearly grown son. That night of bombing wasn’t the first time that Harriet and Mauve’s lives intersect. They meet by chance on Harriet’s bus trip back from sending her husband off to war. They become friends quickly, but circumstances do not bring them back together again until the fateful night of the Coventry Blitz.
The way in which this novel is constructed is near perfect. Through shorter chapters, we get to know Harriet, how she became a widow, her afternoon with Maeve, and why she remained in Coventry after her husband’s death. The night that the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe is all told within a single, long chapter. This structure works extremely well. I felt the suspense and terror of each of the characters during that night, but I kept flipping through looking for the next chapter. It gave me the sensation of “When will this ever end?” It’s not that the story was creeping along. Not at all. I wanted to know when, as a reader, I would finally see the light of a new day. That is exactly what those people must have felt on that long night. That night felt like an eternity for those who lived through it. Controlling the story through the chapter lengths the way that she did, Humphreys created a similar literary experience.
Coventry created a sense of place well and it evoked the type of fear and pain experienced by those who suffered during the bombing. It is hard to imagine what it would be like if your town was being bombed at night by an enemy focused on your destruction. I especially was horrified by the idea of being separated from my child, near adult or not, on a night where and no one is safe. Imagine every move you make might take you one step closer to your child or just out of his reach forever. On the flip side of that terror, there are your neighbors and other strangers experiencing the same thing. How touching is it to offer someone a drink or some other small comfort in the middle of what can only honestly be described as a nightmare?
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Coventry. It gave me a look into a time and place that I wasn’t aware of beforehand. Since reading the novel I’ve done research on that airraid and it’s impact on Coventry, England, and World War II. Humphreys captured the feelings of that night and, through the way that life carried on after that devestating night, how time brings healings and helps us focus on what is important. I would highly recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, British history, or World War II history.
Many thanks to Erica at W.W. Norton & Company for providing me with the opportunity to read this novel.
This book is one of the books I’ve read for the 2009 War Through the Generations Reading Challenge. Check out the website for more information on great reads surrounding World War II.
To buy this novel, click here.