Finished March 19
The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys
This novel has two different sections, each set ten years apart, in 1940 and 1950. Within each section are narratives by a number of people, each telling of their experience, thoughts, and feelings.
The first narrative is by James Hunter, a RAF officer whose plane was shot down, and who was captured by the Germans. He tells of his life in the POW camp, the other men that he interacts with, and the bird-watching that begins to distract him from his situation. The second narrative is by his young wife Rose, back in England. She lives alone in the cottage they bought on the edge of Ashdown Forest, with a dog she bought for company and protection. She fills her days by looking after her Victory garden and her chickens and her evening round as a warden looking for blackout infringements. The two haven't been married long and don't know each other well, and Rose is lonely. She lives near her parents, but doesn't like her mother, a very bossy woman.
The third narrative is by Rose again, but with the introduction of Enid, James' sister, who worked in London until her lodgings were bombed, and who comes to stay with Rose. The woman get along better than either had thought they would, with Enid finding Rose a comfort as she gets over her losses.
The fourth narrative is Enid, as she reflects on the relationship with Rose, and Rose as she looks at the situation as it develops, creating a rift between them.
The fifth is Rose again as she readjusts to her solitary life, and by Toby another RAF officer, who tells of his last flight.
We then move to the second part of the novel, ten years later. The first narrative is Enid visiting James at his remote bird observation station on the coast. She is worried about him, and finds the house he lives in spartan. The two are close, and she manages to get him to talk about the issues he struggles with. We then move to Enid back in London where she works as a paste-up artist for a magazine. She works hard and enjoys the challenges of the job. We also learn of her personal life, a life she has not shared with her brother.
We then move back to Rose, in her unhappy circumstances. She lives a life dictated by others, a life she hates but sees no escape from. She often wonders what her life would be like if different things had happened, if she had made different choices.
The last narrative is one of a German officer who has received a package and message from James. The letter from James causes the officer to look back at the war years and his experiences and feelings. He makes a commitment based on this letter and wishes things could be changed.
The last narrative is from James, as he watches the birds that have become so much more than a distraction for him.
I liked how each narrative had the title for a bird, insect, or animal that has a role in the action in that section. This connection to nature is important, and part of the overall story. I always enjoy reading Humphrey's books and learning new things as well as reading beautiful writing.