Strengths: Conveys emotion of that night well, excellent prose.
Weaknesses: Too short!
Why I read it: Sounded interesting
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