The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys
ARC, Paperback, 304 pages
February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Received the book for review from publisher
“Downed during his first mission, James Hunter is taken captive as a German POW. To bide the time, he studies a nest of redstarts at the edge of camp. Some prisoners plot escape; some are shot. And then, one day, James is called to the Kommandant’s office.
Meanwhile, back home, James’s new wife, Rose, is on her own, free in a way she has never known. Then, James’s sister, Enid, loses everything during the Blitz and must seek shelter with Rose. In a cottage near Ashdown forest, the two women jealously guard secrets, but form a surprising friendship. Each of these characters will find unexpected freedom amid war’s privations and discover confinements that come with peace. The Evening Chorus is a beautiful, astonishing examination of love, loss, escape, and the ways in which the intrusions of the natural world can save us.”
The Evening Chorus is a very different type of World War II novel than any of those that I have read in the past; it is very character centric and not plot driven at all – actually there really isn’t too much plot at all. There are three stories being told here: that of James, his wife Rose, and his sister Enid. I found James’ story to be the most fascinating. Even though A LOT of it was about his bird watching and subsequent observations I found the background events that transpired in the POW camp to be new to me. The way these officers were treated was different than I expected. James strives to just survive until he gets to go home, and that he does by delving into the lives of the local bird population – the redstarts. Rose and Enid’s stories I found to be a little shallow comparatively. I didn’t find that I really cared about or identified with either of them. They two survived the events in their lives through nature in the form of dogs and local flora. This story was mostly about how people can survive the drama of daily life through something that roots them reality – in this case, nature.
It took me quite some time to get into this novel. It is the rare historical novel successfully written in present tense – and this one just didn’t work for me. History to me implies the use of past tense, so within the first two sentences I was already shaken out of the narrative. Here is the example sentences I am referring to:
“James Hunter falls through morning.
He swings from his parachute harness as the plane drops below him, the broken shell of the bomber sinking into the Channel fog.” (pg 3)
I think that the only reason this novel worked as a whole in present tense is because of the three separate characters’ stories that allowed you to have access to events happening in different parts of the world as well as learn what is happening to the other characters through letters that they wrote to each other.
While I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I didn’t hate it. If you are looking for a different type of novel set during/after World War II, this might be the book for you.
If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Also by Helen Humphreys:
The Lost Garden
Find Helen Humphreys: Website
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