“Coventry” by Helen Humphreys
Helen Humphreys is a writer I’d never heard of until I read her acclaimed novel “Afterimage,” a few months back. I’d randomly picked (a signed copy of) the book up at a used bookstore based on the synopsis, and was surprised at how lovely the book turned out to be. So recently, when Humphreys’ “Coventry” popped up on another sale rack, I bought it and – good news – it’s even better!
Man, this book is sad.
Though I like history, there’s a lot I don’t know about it. Apparently, on November 14th, 1940 an English town called Coventry was devastated by German bombers in an event known as the “Coventry Blitz.” The town’s cathedral was famously destroyed.
Humphreys has taken these tragic events from history and navigated this night of a thousand bombs with three characters – widowed Harriet Marsh, and Jeremy and Maeve Fisher (a mother and son.) As the devastation unfolds, Harriet and Jeremy meet and make their way one way through the city while Maeve goes another as they all try to stay alive and find each other, never knowing if the spot they’re standing in will be the next to explode.
Remember when I said it was sad? Yeah, not all three of them make it out alive. That’s not really a spoiler.
Humphreys writes in beautiful prose that feels poetic even as it invokes cinematic images. Her characters are simply crafted, and don’t talk a lot, but they’re relatable. As a new mom, I was drawn to Maeve the most as she ventured through the city looking desperately for her son.
Lovely and tragic, “Coventry” is going to be on my shelf for a long time.