The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. | My copy: ARC, 289 pages, Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), released February 3rd, 2015. | Source: The publisher via Shelf Awareness. | View on Goodreads here.
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 poignant World War II novel that focuses on three people: James, a prisoner of war, Rose, his young wife, and Enid, his sister. The book goes very slowly; there really isn’t any plot. It’s more about the characters and how they cope during and after the war. The writing, however, is beautiful. I wouldn’t call it simplistic prose, but it’s elegant and doesn’t meander around with too-sweet descriptions or giant, impressive words. The sentences aren’t needlessly long or short. The voice is perfect for the time period. Once I got used to the slow pace I really started focusing on the words. The writing made me enjoy this book a whole lot more.
I liked James and Roses’s story lines a bit more than Enid’s. Enid I didn’t feel as sympathetic toward, even though I did warm up to her. James spends most of the war as a prisoner in a German camp. The way he copes with his terrible predicament is to watch and study the birds that live around the camp. His bird watching even intrigues the Kommandant. James writes home a lot, but only talks of the birds in his letters, which disappoints his young wife Rose — Rose, who has definitely grown out of love with James as their time away passes, and who may never have been truly in love with him. The book, I would say, is really Rose’s story, and how we love a multitude of people in our lives but love them differently. (I really can’t tell you much about Rose’s arc without potential spoilers. But there are two wonderful dogs, Harris and Clementine, who follow Rose around. Who doesn’t love four-legged, furry companions?) And Enid fits into this whole picture when she temporarily moves in with Rose when her London apartment is bombed. Enid has her own problems she’s running from and trying to hide, and it’s interesting seeing how her life changes (or perhaps not?) years after the war is over.
About halfway through The Evening Chorus was when I really started to like it. And after finishing it, I’m very glad I pushed through to the end. I did consider putting this down for a later time, just because it was taking me forever to motivate myself to read. I spent a month on this book, reading a few pages every couple of days until this past week when I made myself sit down and make some considerable progress. It’s not a super-grim, super-sad wartime novel, but it is definitely serious and takes some willpower to read because of its character-driven story, versus plot-driven story. I do recommend The Evening Chorus. It was a very refreshing change from what I’ve been reading lately, and I’m glad I read it, also since a goal of mine is to start reading more Adult fiction. ♦