Coventry by Helen Humphreys

In a nutshell… The story of two women the night Coventry was bombed during World War II.

Strengths: Conveys emotion of that night well, excellent prose.

Weaknesses: Too short!

Why I read it: Sounded interesting

Pages: 177

Published: 2009

Publisher: Harper Collins Canada

Setting: Coventry, England

Rating: 9 out of 10

If you liked this, try: Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans

Coventry may be more aptly described as a novella, given its slim silhouette, but its content certainly punches well above its weight. It is the story of two women who meet initially during World War I, but the majority of the plot takes place during the night of the Coventry bombing during World War II on November 14, 1940. This is the story Harriet, a widow from WWI, now a substitute firewatcher on the roof of the cathedral who meets Jeremy while trying to escape the city. Their night of near misses and helping out complete strangers is in contrast to Maeve, Jeremy’s mother, who anxiously awaits his turn before going out to look for him herself.

I read this book in only a couple of days, but its impact is much stronger. The author has an excellent use of language in re-creating the scene of the bombings, right down to the fear, smells and sights in only a few words. It’s incredibly visually descriptive. It also captures the emotions very well – from fear to anguish to confusion during that night. The characters are well written and the reader bonds with them, crossing our fingers with Maeve that Jeremy makes it home, and feeling Harriet’s loneliness. There is an allure and mystery to their backgrounds, but not so much so that it leaves a gap in their character.

I wasn’t familiar with the Coventry bombing before reading this book but after doing some research, I found that this book is very accurate, down to the names of buildings that were destroyed.

If I had to sum up this book in a single word, that word would be powerful. This skinny little book brings to life a page from history. It’s definitely one to be taken off the shelf and read, preferably in a single sitting. It will haunt you for a long time afterwards, with the terror of the bombing and fires and the power of the Coventry people to survive and grow from that night.

These are pictures from the bombing, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The day after – Winston Churchill visits the remains of the cathedral (where Harriet and Jeremy were firewatching)

Owen Owen, the department store that is mentioned in the novel is centre here – burnt during the bombing

10 thoughts on “Coventry by Helen Humphreys

Add yours

  1. I have been meaning to read this book for the longest time. Rappaport seems to choose such interesting topics to write about.

    The destruction of Coventry Cathedral is kind of portrayed in Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog – although it is a time travel fantasy so very different kind of read to this one.

      1. It’s actually a time travel novel and is about trying to fix an anomaly that has been created by time travellers. The destruction of the cathedral is one of the central events in the plot. The author has done a lot of research on WWII. Her last two books are both predominantly set in WWII. I have only read To Say Nothing of the Dog but it was such a fun read and I intend to read more of Connie Willis’ books.

  2. I am so glad that you reviewed this one. It sounds like something I would enjoy, and I know I probably would not have known about it were it not for your review. I am impressed by the fact that such a slender volume could pack such an emotional wallop.

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