Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lost in Coventry

I randomly picked up a copy of Coventry by Helen Humphreys. I'm one of those "judging a book by its cover" types of people and I saw it on display at my favorite independent bookstore, Keplers. Something about it had me picking it up and reading the back cover. And something there had me adding it to my pile of treasures. I don't know what or why, but it appealed to me and so it became mine.

I started it last night, finished it a few minutes ago and actually feel like I want to read it again because I think I read so fast that some of its beauty might have been missed.

It takes place mostly on one very long night, November 14, 1940, when the Germans bombed the English city of Coventry to destruction. During that night two women, connected by one young man, deal with danger, reflection, and thoughts of life and death while their world goes up in flames. Do you stay and help the wounded? Do you seek safety? Do you flee your home in terror or sit determined in your own home, feeling that being where your loved ones can find you is more important than being away from harm?

Coventry is a short book, just 177 pages in a trade paperback size. But it is intensely powerful and so beautifully written that it's like poetry. It's liquid, moving, with flashes of quicksilver brilliance. An example:

How would I describe the world? By describing something, doesn't the thing itself cease to exist? How would I decided what to marry -- this shade o grey with the low-slung clouds of November. Not precise enough. This shade of grey is cigarette ash. That shade of grey is water running over clay. Not vivid enough. That shade of grey is old mortar between old bricks.

Wow. How do you describe color? You can only do so in comparison to something else, and it's never quite right, And other literary problem children -- how does a person deal with loss? How does someone who loses everything go on to make a life? It's handled with subtle grace and breathtaking prose.

This is a beautiful, warm gem of a book that completely captured by my imagination and my heart. And makes me wish I had Ms. Humphrey's gift with words. Why, oh why can't I write like that?

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

Decca, please drop by my blog. I have an award for you. Thanks, K.