Sunday, March 8, 2009

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

I'm back in Edmonton after 7 weeks in New Zealand and am rather disappointed that there is still so much snow here. On the bright side, 9 books were waiting on hold for me at the public library -- I can ignore the weather and stay indoors reading, escaping to other places, times and climates.

Helen Humphreys is a Canadian author with a talent for poetic prose and who excels at close examination of human nature. The main story in Coventry takes place on one night: November 14, 1940. Harriet Marsh is volunteering as a fire warden, standing on the roof of the cathedral, where she meets another fire warden, Jeremy Fisher. He is about 20 years younger than Harriet and reminds her very much of her husband who died in WW I. Harriet and Jeremy become friends as they share the horrors of an extended bombing raid that destroyed much of the city of Coventry.

This short (175 pages) novel closely resembles one of Humphreys' previous works, The Lost Garden. It also has many similarities to Sarah Waters' The Night Watch, including the British WW II setting, the focus on individual lives affected by extraordinary times, and the shifts in time period. (These shifts are mostly parenthetical in Coventry, giving the reader some backstory and epilogue.) I wish I could add the similarity of lesbian content, but in typical Humphreys style, there is only lesbian subtext. Nevertheless, this book is a gem.

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