“Intertwining themes of love, loneliness, and remembrance”, Coventry tells the story of two women and a young man, whose lives intersect, on the night of November 14, 1940 as the city of Coventry burns.
Harriet is a war widow who lost her husband at a very young age in WWI. She has been alone ever since. On the night of November 14, 1940, she finds herself up on the roof of the cathedral as one of the fire-watchers, along with a young man named Jeremy.
For a few minutes the fire-watchers live up to their name- four dark figures stamped against a moonlit sky, standing sentinel on the roof of the cathedral while the edges of the city begin to curl up and burn.
Harriet and Jeremy escape from the building together, and make their way through the city. Jeremy has asked for Harriet’s help to find his way home to his mother. As they move through the city, they encounter bombs, burning and crumbling buildings, the dead and the dying, dogs looking for their owners, and cats sleeping on windowsills that are no longer surrounded by walls.
Maeve is at home, waiting for her son to return from his duty as fire-watcher. When neighbours invite her to come with them out of the city, she decides to go, hoping to find her son heading in the same direction.
This book is short, but powerful. It helped me to imagine what it would have been like to be in Coventry on the night that the only cathedral in Britain was to be destroyed in the war.
Some good passages:
Nothing holds its truth for long enough. Home leaves us, not the other way around.
The bombing shakes the ground so that the people fleeing through the streets stumble as though drunk. The trembling earth shifts them one way, and then another, and Harriet finds herself reaching out to steady herself on walls that are no longer standing. She falls in the street, picks herself up from the shaking ground, and falls again. Her leg is bruised. The combination of debris, noise, and the shaking ground makes her lose her bearings. The hot waves of air pull her hair straight back, push the air out of her lungs. She tightens her grip on Jeremy’s hand. We are the lucky ones, she thinks. The ones who have escaped. The unlucky ones were sheltering under their furniture, or crouched in their cellars, when the whole house dropped to its knees, drowning them in bricks and beams, burying them under everything they once held dear.
When a building is lost, everything that had happened within its walls is lost as well.
“I’d already lost everything in the last war, when my husband died,” says Harriet. “And I thought there wasn’t anything left for me to lose in this one. But I was wrong.”