The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys | Book Review

Title: The Evening Chorus

Author: Helen Humphreys

Publication Date: 2015

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Format: Hardcover|304 pages

The Evening Chorus is by far be the most exquisitely written novel I have read this year. Under normal circumstances I avoid books about World Wars, not because I am not interested in history but war isn’t exactly my favourite topic to think or read about. However, this novel made me realise I only thought I disliked war novels. The Evening Chorus is a somewhat simple story of three people who are trying to find peace during and after the Second World War. The novel follows James Hunter, who is held prisoner in a German camp for five years, his wife, Rose, who is left behind in a small cottage in rural England only after few months of marriage and Enid, James’ sister who loses everything during the London Blitz.

The story is told in a lyrical prose that not only offers the author control over the reader’s mood and emotions, but it makes you wonder at the writer’s genius. In a subtle manner, Helen Humphreys restores faith in humanity in the process of building the novel. Set in the 1940s, it is a breath-taking meditation on the human condition, what place we have in the grand scheme of things and how deep we are rooted into nature. James, in order to see himself through the war and maintain his sanity during the years as a POW in Germany, studies redstarts, Rose is deeply in love with the forest and her dog, while Enid always collects sand studies species of plants that helps her realise what it means to live a meaningful life.  

Helen Humphreys is telling a fairly and seemingly simple story but, through this simplicity and her quiet but confident writing, she opens the lives of the characters allowing the reader to inspect their thoughts and feelings and be a part of their lives. More than that, she leaves the reader to discover what is behind the words and never tells us what to think or judge. The elegantly composed imagery of nature at points forced me stop and think “this is perfect”. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an exquisite lyrical novel about love, loss and beauty. It is definitely not a typical war novel, but it encapsulates the experience of it in an unusual but astonishing way.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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