“The truth is that you do forget people. When you conjure them up, long after they have gone, you can’t recall the essence of them, just the outline.”
Author: Helen Humphreys Published: 2014 Pages: 460
This novel is a beautiful insight into four different lives struggling through the plight of World War II. The Evening Chorus follows four narratives – James, Rose, Enid and Toby – whose lives are intertwined and relationships complicated and irrevocably affected by the war. James is a prisoner of war while his wife Rose finds herself somewhat conflicted in how to feel about his absence. All four discover unexpected freedoms that the war can bring while equally longing for something that was lost before the fighting began. They experience the pain of losing those they love but also find new ways to love despite the war’s destruction.
What I enjoyed most about Humphreys’ characters is how they were so extraordinary while being completely ordinary at the same time. From James’ birdwatching to Enid’s specimens and Rose’s companionship with her dog, they struggle through the highs and lows of everyday life. The difference, however, lies in their war-torn circumstance and is a refreshing reminder of the struggle of living through WWII.What’s more is that, as disclosed in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, the novel is actually based on three real events; thismade the read even more heart-warming while also making it all the more tragic.
I enjoyed the way that the characters’ perspectives changed as the novel progressed, however, it wasn’t the war which did this, but rather smaller, more insignificant moments. They took what the war threw at them and, while they may have stumbled for a moment, proved that they would not be broken by it. Humphreys’ depiction of human resilience is something to be admired.
My main criticism for the book is not anything to do with the author’s writing or story, but simply that I loved it so much I wanted more. As I often find with shorter novels I am frequently left with unanswered questions and an itch to delve back into the characters’ lives to find out what happened after the last page. While I do believe there is a beauty in short books, sometimes I think an author must realise that if they have something good they should bleed it for all it’s worth – an opportunity somewhat missed by Humphreys.
Overall, this is a potent read and despite its heavy subject area, was actually rather quick to get through, an indication of the author’s brilliant writing. Far from stereotypical war narratives such as Birdsong, I think that Humphreys has found a way to write a compelling war narrative which is both powerful and original.