- “For hours, for no reason that I could imagine, I drew black swans. Hunched over a piece of cardboard on the floor of the hotel room, the coal softening to dust on this surface beneath me. What I wanted was the simple pleasure of seeing you again. But you didn’t come, couldn’t come. I don’t know how to make you return to me. But I did come to know the black swan. I knew the long snake flex of its neck, knew that the shape of the body was a leaf, a wing, an open hand, the human heart. I fastened these images to paper, called them swan. And then I rose, black dust dripping from my hands, my arms spread empty to the empty sky, as I walked out through broken streets feathered with shadow-darkness lifting me home.”
- “The good thing about books is that they remain themselves. What happens in their pages stays there. Harriet does not like the idea of the story bleeding through into real life. She trusts a story, and doesn’t trust real life. But what makes her trust a story is the knowledge that it will stay where it is, that she can visit it but that there is no chance it will visit her.”
- “Harriet is sure she can smell the books burning in the library. She thinks she can smell the pages turning to ash, all the pages she has poured through, the paper thick and slightly damp, the edges of the pages brown with foxing and sometimes sticky to the touch. She used to pride herself on all the information she knew. For some reason it was a comfort, all this knowledge she could unravel with a breath. Now, that still contemplation she had in the library seems completely unreal. Maybe reading was just a way to make her feel less alone, to keep her company. When you read something you are stopped, the moment is stayed, you can sometimes be there more fully than you can in your real life.”
If you’ve never read anything by Helen Humphreys you really should-you should experience her beautiful writing yourself. I don’t think a review can do justice to the way her novels make a person feel. Coventry is a gripping read. Humphreys brings alive the bombing of Coventry in such a way that you feel as though you are living through this terror with the characters. In fact she drew on actual events and eyewitness accounts for the writing of this novel. It’s not a huge book either at 192 pages and yet you feel as though you know the characters intimately.
I absolutely recommend this novel. I fully intend to read more of Humphreys books. Many thanks to Mini Book Expo and Harper Collins Canada for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel. You can purchase Coventry here.