Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

James Hunter, an English officer in the RAF, has been shot down on his first bombing mission and taken to a German POW camp. While other prisoners are digging tunnels and making daring and dangerous escape attempts, James has discovered a pair of nesting redstart birds and decided to spend his war time studying them. He spends hours near the fencing of the prison camp, watching the birds and taking extensive notes, planning to write a book about them when the war ends. His interest catches the eye of the prison camp's Kommandant, leading to one of Hunter's most traumatizing experiences.

Back home, James's wife Rose has adopted a dog to keep her company and fallen into an affair with another man. James writes home but his letters are almost entirely about the redstarts he watches, with occasional questions about them that he'd like her to look up for him. She feels as if he must not really love her at all and has begun setting his letters aside, unopened. 

James's sister Enid has been driven from London after her home was bombed and her lover killed. She writes to Rose, asking if she can come stay with her, and Rose agrees. There is a little friction between them but they gradually come to respect each other until Enid challenges Rose's occasional disappearances. 

In 1950, we see these same characters and what has become of them since the war. It doesn't appear that any of it is positive, for a while, but the book ends on an uplifting note for everyone. What made these three people feel like life is worth living? 

Highly recommended - Set during and after WWII, The Evening Chorus is about the healing power of nature but with an unflinching eye toward the horrors of war. The Evening Chorus was, for me, a book that simply would not let go. I had a terrible time moving on to my next read. I think I may have mentioned this, but I felt like I needed to find something dramatically different or I would have ended up not reading at all for a few days (hence my reading of the sci-fi classic The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester). The Evening Chorus is a beautiful, sad, hopeful story about 3 people and how nature's healing touch helps them to move on after tragedy and trauma. 

This is my second read by Helen Humphreys. I read Coventry, a few years ago and only wrote a mini review of it in a post with several other short reviews, here:

Coventry by Helen Humphreys

I can't say if the same will happen with The Evening Chorus, but Coventry has stuck with me. My review of it, on looking back, seems a bit tepid. But, I still remember scenes from Coventry and it's been nearly 8 years since I read it. 

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  1. This sounds good- makes me think of a book I read a while back about a man in prison who studied what small wildlife he could see- spiders, weeds, etc . . .

    1. In the author's note, she says that part of the story was actually based on fact. There was actually a man who studied the birds while he was in a POW camp and wrote a book about them, when the war ended! It's excellent, Jeane. Now, I wish I'd bought a few more of her books before going on my book-buying ban. Oh, well. Next year, I guess. :)


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