15 March 2015

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

There's the joy of reading a good book and then there's the joy of anxiously anticipating the arrival of a favoured author's latest work, hot off the press.  I bought a copy of The Evening Chorus last weekend and read it over the next few nights.  Helen would be reading from her book at the City Hall branch of the Toronto Public Library on Thursday and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take part.  With a heavy heart I turned the last page and told my husband it was my favourite book of the year.  To which he replied 'it's only March'.  Mark my words.

Helen Humphreys reads from 'The Evening Chorus'

The story begins in 1940 with James Hunter being plucked from a frigid English Channel by German soldiers after the crash of his Wellington fighter plane.  Taken to a prisoner of war camp he soon figures out there are two prevalent ways of thinking.... escape or create an occupation to bide the time.  James is soon captivated by a pair of Redstarts building a nest high in the trees just outside the prison's perimeter.  Logging the birds activity in a notebook it doesn't take long before James is known as Birdman.  He also writes letters to his wife, Rose, but avoids revealing too many details to protect her from the harshness of his surroundings.

Rose is ten years younger than James, a new bride, and patrols the nearby cottages for signs of blackout violations after dark.  Each day is much like the one before, just as it is for James, but Rose has a secret.

The Evening Chorus is a story about love and loss during the war but the collapsed buildings, air raid shelters, and sirens blaring almost every night in London seem a world away from Ashdown Forest.  A bit of a misnomer since King Henry VIII cleared the area to build his navy but it's very much a haven for woodland flowers and Rose's companion, an energetic dog named Harris.

With Helen

Helen Humphreys has an incredible talent for taking the reader on an epic adventure in a paradoxically succinct style.  For that reason I don't think it would be fair to share more than I already have.  What I will say though, there are aspects of The Evening Chorus that remind me of Rose Macaulay's wartime short story Miss Anstruther's Letters.  Something precious can vanish in a heartbeat; you can go on searching for it to the point of obsession or move on.

A beautiful book, a wonderful story, and an author who is far too humble about her ability to captivate a reader.  Thank you, Helen!


  1. What a wonderful review. I'll definitely add this to my TBR list.

  2. Sounds wonderful! Another book to add to my ever growing pile. I always love your reviews!

    1. Oh Sunday, clear some space on your shelves for this one! I think you would really enjoy some of Helen's other books such as The Lost Garden and Coventry. Enjoy your day!

  3. I could not put this down after I started reading it, Darlene. I love Humphrey's writing. I'm not sure I'll read anything else this year as perfectly written as the open section, describing James' life in the POW camp. I thought the rest of the book didn't quite live up to that start, but it was still wonderful and probably my favourite of her books so far.

    1. SO glad you enjoyed it, Claire! I didn't want to leave James but once I got to know Rose...I didn't want to leave her. Talk about contrary!
      Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts...hope all is well with you.